My thoughts on #MTBoS

That acronym stands for the bulky and unwieldy (in name, in actuality) mathtwitterblogosphere. There have been some heated discussions lately online (on blogs, on twitter, on email) around a post that Dan Meyer wrote about the Global Math Department session called “Choose Your Lunch Table: A Warmer #MTBoS” (you can watch it online). My internet wasn’t working when the session was happening so I was only able to listen in from my phone.

I don’t really want to spend the energy to engage deeply with Dan’s post, as others have done (Approximately Normal, Divisible By 3, f(t)). Briefly, I think Dan has some really valuable things to say in his post, but when it came to his analysis of the session, I believe he was misreading a lot of what was going on. (There were no “corporate resolutions.” And there was no “High Council of the Math Teacher Bloggers.”) There is no better evidence for me thinking Dan was looking at what was happening through a strange lens than simply looking at the google doc that was made during the session, where I just see a thoughtful discussion and some great points.

But I don’t think anyone there saw it as anything more than a rich conversation. (And if I saw what Dan saw, I would agree with him wholeheartedly. I just didn’t see it that way.)

That being said, I wanted to throw my two cents out there during the session, but since I could only listen from my phone, I’ll type what I wanted to say here.

My Two Cents

I love that we’re a disjointed community. There are many conversations going on in many different places. On twitter, yes. On blogs, yes. Over emails, yes. At the global math department, yes. In person, yes. On facebook, yes. There is something ridiculously amazing about how non-centralized and grassroots this all is. And that it has sustained itself for so long, and has been growing so fast.

One of the awesome-est things for me is thinking about how many different ways someone can get involved. Lurking, of course, by reading blogs and tweets. Writing your own blog. Submitting to other blogs (a special moment on the one good thing blog, a graph to daily desmos, a student misconception to the math mistakes blog, an assessment to the better assessments blog…). Attending the global math department. And even starting your own thing because heck, you wanted to (e.g. the a day in the life initiative)!

It’s disjointed, and doesn’t have a center, and that allows for so much creativity and so many different entry points for people. I attribute that this is precisely why this whole community evolves in a positive way, and can grow in the way that it has. I don’t want the disjointedness to change. I don’t want to be an organization. I don’t want a hierarchy.

However, just because we’re disjointed and decentralized does not mean that we can’t ask who we are (knowing the answers are going to be multiple and individual) and what we want to get out of this community (knowing the answers are going to be multiple and individual) and what our experiences have been (knowing the answers are going to be multiple and individual). You get where I’m going here. I think these questions are great because they can lead to some awesome stuff. Approximately Normal got it right…

 I think it will continue to grow and evolve into whatever we need it to be.

But I have to say: growing and evolving doesn’t happen passively. We’re not bystanders in the process. We are actively doing it in the ways that we’re participating with the community — whether we’re conscious of it or not. So questions like: who are we? what do we want to be? how can we make our experiences better? what can we give back to others? How could those be bad questions — as long as we understand the answers are going to be multiple and individual? Those sorts of questions can lead to some awesome collaborative work by like-minded people.

Simply put, there is no taming of the #MTBoS, because it’s all of us, and we are not homogeneous. And that I love.

Engagement with the #MTBoS

There’s no right way to participate in this weird disjointed passionate community. Do what moves you. Do what makes sense for you. And give others those same allowances.

I limit who I follow and have a protected twitter account. That’s okay.

I don’t comment on other peoples’s blogs regularly anymore. That’s okay.

I have never done a 3 Act with my kids. That’s okay.

I like doing collaborative projects with other teachers online, but I rarely have time to. That’s okay.

I often ignore everything in the #MTBoS (sometimes for a month or more) because I’m too busy. That’s okay.

I almost never criticize/push back on other people’s teaching ideas. (I would rather do that sort of work in person when I have more context.) That’s okay.

I skip past almost 95% of blogposts in my rss reader, unless they give me concrete things I can do in my classroom. That’s okay.

I constantly feel anxiety that there are so so so many better teachers out there and I’ll never get there. That’s an okay feeling.

I haven’t updated my virtual filing cabinet in months or revamped my very very very outdated online portfolio or done a major overhaul on the mathtwitterblogosphere site since it was created. That’s okay.

I sometimes take an idea from a blogpost to use in my classroom, and forget to say thank you in the comments. Though rude, even that’s okay too.

I don’t care about the “big questions” about teaching and ed policy. That’s okay.

You should never feel guilty engaging with the community in ways that make sense to you [1]. We’re all coming at teaching from such different places in our careers, such different backgrounds, and such different environments. We all need and want different things. I’m okay with that. I’m more than okay with that, because the fact that we’re all coming together from such different vantage points is what makes this little village work well for so many different people.

[1] As long as you’re not a know-it-all-jerk-face. GROSS.

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42 thoughts on “My thoughts on #MTBoS

  1. I don’t have a blog, don’t read that many blogs of others (regularly), and my Twitter interactions are pretty much limited to tossing out random interesting math (and other) problems I’ve either invented or happened upon elsewhere. Often to the sound of crickets. That’s okay.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts – as corny as it may sound, I needed to hear some of your “that’s OK” messages. Over the last few weeks I have made my first foray into this community, and I have had to grapple with intense feelings of joy and inspiration, as well as disappointment and shame that I have been teaching for 15 years, and I am only now trying to do a major overhaul.
    Hearing it from you helped especially, because I happened to get my first major dose of shame and self-flagellation while looking at all you created on Scribd. I thought of the hundreds of students who would have been better served by a more innovative teacher, and I wanted a time machine desperately.
    I have had to repeatedly force myself to stop regretting the past, and to just focus on being grateful for the contributions of all of these giving teachers, and the exciting prospect of changing my classroom. So, thanks from me and all of my future students. You and the other celebrities of the #MTBoS have had a profound impact on me this summer, and I have a strong sense that there will be no turning back. I hope it brings you joy to think that there will (hopefully) be hundreds of people in Pasadena who will be more ready to build fulfilling lives, thanks in part to you and the other folks who share their ideas.
    I am fired up, and ready to do more in the #MTBoS than lurk.

    • The one horrible thing about our community is that we are surrounded by so much excellence and such a diversity (and surfeit) of ideas that it sometimes is so so paralyzing. It often makes me feel like crap, and then I have to walk away for a bit. But every single time that happens, after wallowing, I make the decision to make a baby step (make one new lesson, come up with one exit ticket) and then it starts to feel good again.

      It’s almost comical how we have such morphed views of our own teaching selves. You said you thought the stuff on Scribd was innovative, but I find myself and what I whip up to be soooooo boring and unengaging. *Even when I have evidence to the contrary.*

      Because of the dysmorphic way I think most teachers tend to view themselves, I’d bet good $$$ (okay, I don’t have any $$$, but you know what I mean) that you are ah-mazing and do so much excellent crazy good stuff that you don’t even recognize yourself because you’re too close to yourself.

      So I’m glad you’re not being hard on yourself anymore. You have taught for 15 years. I bow to you sir.

  3. I am what you call lurking. I read blogs a great deal and reflect on others practice hoping to better my own. Really just started this last summer, so I am a late bloomer. I hesitate to join in with my own ideas or blog because honestly I don’t think I have the time to do it right. I wonder how everyone finds the time to do all the amazing lessons I read. Once school starts, I hit the ground running, and seem to only have time or energy to think about the next days lesson!

    I have taught for 18 years and joined the profession as a second career, after 15 years in my first career. I completely understand how John feels. When I look at this awesome community, I feel inadequate and overwhelmed. So reading your thoughts have really helped me put some perspective on my teaching. I need to put the guilt trip and the perfectionism aside and try to be and do what I can instead of feel ashamed at myself. I need to remind myself that trying the best I can is okay. At least I’m trying!

    Thanks for your post. I appreciate that you shared your thoughts!

    • ” I need to put the guilt trip and the perfectionism aside and try to be and do what I can instead of feel ashamed at myself. I need to remind myself that trying the best I can is okay. At least I’m trying!”

      I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had this in my head. I like that we’re all a support system for each other!

  4. Hi Sam,

    First a note on your blog name – does it mean you’re spiky? prickly? jumpy? It conjures silly images in my mind of the little fuzzy aliens my sister and I drew as kids.

    Thanks for this post. I am a newcomer to Twitter but a veteran educator. I got involved because I wanted a sounding board for the work I do now – developing Algebra and Geometry curricula and instructional materials. I like that it is a crazy, disjointed, energetic, appreciative community being continuously built. I commented, about three weeks ago, to two Twitter veterans, about how I thought it was difficult to break into their “tight-knit” community. I was told that there was no “knitted,” only “knitting!” So, I got ballsy and jumped in!

    One thing that may be preventing newcomers from doing the same is the idea that there are Twitter “celebrities” or “rock-stars,” who are somehow superior. Many of the Twitter veterans have exemplary ideas, but we are all on the same level! We are educators, trying to improve our practice. I think updating the MTBoS webpage is a good step toward breaking-down that (mis)perception. The MTBoS, I hope, is more than the teachers you’ve featured there.

    Finally, to help kindred folks find each other, I started a shared Google Spreadsheet yesterday. To my delight, there are 39 math educators who have listed themselves already. You can join them by completing a form (https://docs.google.com/a/educationconnection.org/forms/d/1eIp9ZRU05CjDpaw83BwPVCa1uGTuMk471WuRanjmdhQ/viewform) or filling-in the bottom row of a table. (https://docs.google.com/a/educationconnection.org/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Aqbv7_DUSiDqdEstMmtHa3dWMzNEOExOZ2hxdUNUYnc#gid=1) We will default to sorting alphabetically by Twitter name, but feel free to sort in any way that is helpful!

    So, thank you Sam, for all you have done to establish this community. I feel privileged to be a part of it!

    • I don’t know why I chose my blog title! I wanted to start a blog and I couldn’t come up with anything interesting or punny, so I just chose one of the weirdest things I learned from a math class — that there are functions which are continuous everywhere but differentiable nowhere. I knew if I hadn’t just chosen something, I never would have gotten started.

      As for the “twitter celebrities” or “twitter rockstars” thing, I get what you’re saying, but that’s something that’s wholly artificial. I’m not saying there aren’t people who put people up on pedestals (I think we all have teacher crushes on people whose ideas resonate with us), but it isn’t because anyone is cultivating a “celebrity” or “rockstar” status. ***I don’t think there is a single person out there that I engage with who has done anything to show themselves as “superior.” In fact, I think everyone is doing the opposite, feeling like they suck, are looking for ways to improve, and are open about everyone being in the same boat. I don’t think these “rockstars” have done anything but be generous with their time, and modest about their efforts.***

      I think @cheesemonkeysf said it best on Kate’s blog: “Thing Two is this: readiness is a great gift, but nobody can give it to you. When you’re ready to step forward with your own voice and speak authentically about your teaching and your life, you will know it. Also, be advised that those two things cannot be separated. If you are authentic in your teaching, that authenticity will spill over into your life and vice versa. Try not to pay attention to the whole rock star idea because ultimately, it is a big distraction from teaching and learning.”

      It’s what everyone has told you and that you hopefully have been discovering. It’s about jumping in, feeling awkward because it IS awkward, and it’s about finding and/or cultivating your own tribe (as @cheesemonkeysf would put it).

      That’s not to say there aren’t ways to make it easier for new people to become part of the community. (Like there was the math blogging initiation last year…) It just takes a lot of work to come up with an idea and take it to fruition.

      As for the MTBoS page and the people it features, it was thrown together in three days. Videos were solicited by twitter and those who responded in time got their videos up there. We wanted a diversity of people from public and private, new teachers and veterans, and teachers new to the MTBoS and veterans of the MTBoS. And I love that we got that. The lists were so awesomely made by two people from TMC12 and I’m ever so grateful for them putting it together. I think they did a great job and I’m grateful for the time they gave up to do this. So when you say “The MTBoS, I hope, is more than the teachers you’ve featured there” — no! Of course not. And the top of the page says as much. The point was not to create an comprehensive archive of all the blogs out there, nor to be exclusive. The only point was to create a set of small videos and lists to make a gentle entry point for those dipping their feet into the community. Read my comments on https://docs.google.com/document/d/1pLeAOTqRXN8iFoWoy_i96tVhByorSuRUA8vy7_q_GGs/edit and if you want to help out, please do. I not only would accept it, I would welcome it with open arms.

      Always,
      Sam

  5. Thanks, Sam. I didn’t mean to imply that “celebrity” or “rockstar” were monikers chosen by those who have been given them. My comment was (in my head anyway) intended for those who perpetuate those designations. I also don’t mean to find fault with the MTBoS site, except to point out that a static site should not be the public face of a dynamic group! Good conversation, I think.

    • I suppose don’t see the MTBoS weebly site as *the* public face of our group. I don’t think we have a single public face, and I wouldn’t want to.

      But seriously, if you want to help update or add to the lists of bloggers/twitterers, take it on! As I said, it would be warmly welcomed.

  6. Well said. I was debating creating some sort of post about “Do It Different! Do What You Can Manage! Change When You Want To, If Ever!”, but your post pretty much sums it up. I’m okay, you’re okay! Thanks for the read.

  7. I do appreciate that it’s a disjointed community, although it does cause me to fear that I’m missing out on important parts of community-building.

    I actually have a particular example in mind — the Philosophy Smoker blog is a fine place for philosophers to hang out and grumble about the state of that field, in all its many forms (it’s even fun for me, a mathematician, since so much of it translates intelligibly); is there an equivalent for mathematicians? I honestly don’t know and haven’t been able to find one that looks like it is, but that could just be my obliviousness.

    Also, I mean, I’ve been blogging for, like, over a year now and I’m not even a little famous yet. What’s with that, Internet? Can I talk with your supervisor?

    • Oh, you’ll always be missing out on something or another. FOMO! I constantly feel like that when I hear of this or that going on. You just gotta accept that. I’ve found it’s easier to find a couple people to work on something I’m interested in (and actually build the community through some collaborative project) than wait for an opportunity to pop up. But that totally takes time and tons of effort.

      Re: The Philosophy Smoker, are you talking about for mathematics (which I don’t know about), or math teachers/education? I can say I definitely don’t know of a place like that for math education/teachers. I personally am not interested in big picture things as much. However I imagine there has to be a place where maybe not this community of bloggers are having those conversations, but through NCTM or the Common Core discussions, they have to exist. List serves and stuff like that. But if one is not out there and you want one… (you know what I’m going to say…)

      As for being famous, I have no advice on that. Internet’s supervisor? You out there? We gotta question for you!

      • I suppose I was thinking more of the Philosophy Smoker sort of hangout for math teachers or educators — their experiences probably communicate better across the whole field than do specific mathematics interests, come to think of it, since different sub-fields get their own cultures so — but I guess I’m interested in any sort of hangout where life in the field could be talked about.

        Should I find one, I’d be glad to share the information, but it might be something which has gone inexplicably uncreated yet. Or as you say it’s on listservs or Usenet groups or other places Google doesn’t reach.

  8. Thanks Sam. There was a really interesting podcast this week on How Stuff Works, about How Burning Man Works. One of their tenets is “radical participation.” I think you pretty much summed up whatever in my mind “radical participation” means.

    And I know what what you mean about staying focused on baby steps. Thanks you because that’s okay!

  9. Often, I start a discussion and do the online equivalent to leaving the room. That’s ok, if not confusing for those talking with me. My attention span is shorter than that of the average 8 year-old. That’s ok, and Approximately Normal can back me up on that. Look, a bicycle!

    I’ve followed some of the discussion over the state of the MTBoS since Tuesday night’s Lunch Table conversation. I’m sad to see how it’s polarized our community. A few great things I’ve seen in this conversation:
    1) Amy Zimmer’s comment on how Burning Man works: “radical participation”. Yes, that’s what I want to see.
    2) John, Theresa, and Jill are grateful for your words, as am I.
    3) This community NEEDS to evolve thoughtfully because more and more dedicated teachers are turning to Twitter and blogging out of desperation for community. I think Kate said it best about the dedication of so many math teachers, “you’re here at 10pm on a Tuesday night in late June.”

    Please indulge me one comment on the rockstar issue: I’ve been very sensitive to the rockstar treatment newbies offer up to the established folks because while the rockstars themselves are entirely gracious, I think the treatment makes the newbies feel less qualified to participate. I’ve seen/heard it so often surrounding Global Math — “Oh, I could never present. I’m no [insert celebrity MTBoS name here].” Enough already, folks! We all have amazing stuff to share and what the established folks have on their blogs took them a long time to compile and is the result of many folks’ work.

    Oh, and 4) we all need more cheesemonkey in our lives.

    As usual, Sam, you have a way with words. Thanks for yours.

    • In regard to ‘I’ve seen/heard it so often surrounding Global Math — “Oh, I could never present. I’m no [insert celebrity MTBoS name here].” Enough already, folks! We all have amazing stuff to share and what the established folks have on their blogs took them a long time to compile and is the result of many folks’ work.’

      Something Andy Rundquist has done on Global Physics Department is to encourage those on the very fringes to participate. For example, my son (a high school junior) gave a presentation on an Arduino Data Logger he had written for me to use in my circuits course. It was a useful tool for some physics teachers, so was on topic for GPD—but even more importantly I think that the inclusion of a high school student as a presenter made it clear to new teachers that the barrier to entry was very low. All you need is something moderately interesting to share.

  10. Megan – I too do that (start something and then get onto something else!). That should have been on my list too!

    I honestly don’t think it has polarized us or that anything really bad has come out of it — not at heart. I have had so many good/interesting conversations because of it. I’ve had the question a few times this year if I had time in my life for this — and wouldn’t it be easier to just “turn it off” and teach and go home and sleep? I think these sorts of conversations remind us what’s important to us, and beg us to ask the hard questions, and ask us to take charge of things, and to hear how others are feeling.

    As for the “rockstar” issue – yes yes yes. It’s all in peoples’s minds. We all have things to contribute and we all are judgment free — I don’t think anyone out there thinks they know The Answers. So if you want to jump in, there’s nothing more to do but: do it. And if you don’t, that’s okay too. But you can’t hold yourself to a standard based on someone else. Hold yourself to being the best you can be, and use yourself as your own standard. (We don’t have students compare themselves with other students in our classroom!) And acknowledge and value what you do well, and recognize you too have a lot of things you can share, if you want to.

  11. I owe a lot to the MTBoS (by the way, I feel like we should have a verbal pronunciation for it: Matboss? Mitboss? Matbose? Mitbose? I think I might like Mitbose best of all of those haha). My degree in secondary ed didn’t do a whole lot to show me what it means to be a good math teacher. Reading the blogs and twitter accounts of MTBos (and science people too) really helped me develop.

    • I feel such the same way (including about my credentialing program). I would have been stuck teaching at a crappy level if I hadn’t been inspired / dejected by / pushed by all the creative ideas out there. Now I’m at a mediocre level!!! I have so much more to go, but I’m actually excited about the journey. I also truly wonder if I would have gotten so bored with teaching with all y’all out there.

  12. As my beloved teacher Natalie Goldberg has said many, many, many many times, when we are practicing together at a deep level, we are all simply practitioners, practicing together. That is the payoff for taking the risk of stepping forward with your own work, with your own ideas, and with your own voice. I think that’s the most magical thing about the MTBoS!

    - Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeysf)

  13. Thank you, Sam. What you’ve written here both rings very true and makes me feel good about the whole shebang. That is a wonderful combo. You make so many good points so well about how there’s room for all kinds of participation and how our collective agency, creativity, and gumption make this an enormously thrilling and satisfying place to be. Thanks for this and everything! :)

  14. Sam ~ Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!! First and foremost for making me aware of what the acronym, MTBoS, stands for. I’m new to Twitter and blogs and I kept seeing those letters and wasn’t sure what it was. I now have the MTBoS link saved in my Favorites Bar. I don’t think I’ll be able to join, however, because I don’t write a blog and, although I have a twitter account, I don’t post tweets very often. But now I know…THAT’S OK!

    I started teaching in 1973 (BC…Before Calculators/Computers); retired in 2005; and discovered I missed teaching so I now teach three classes at a local high school and two classes at a local university as an adjunct professor. In my younger days, I attended/presented at Math conferences often but now that I’m only teaching part-time, I find myself seeking Professional Development on-line. It’s a shame that “lurking” has such a negative connotation because that’s exactly what I do.

    Thankfully, when I share math articles and blogs on Facebook, I don’t have to worry about referencing where I found the article or blog because FB automatically does that for me. So even though I don’t contribute by writing a blog or tweeting, I do “share the wealth” of rich professional development with my friends on Facebook.

    Thanks again!

    • Haha it’s SUCH an unwieldy acronym, I know! I am so impressed by you, and I hope I can be like you in terms of the longevity and passion in the classroom. I’m only on 6 years, but I’m proud of those 6 years. I’m glad you don’t feel bad about lurking (and there is no shame or negativity or judgment for that!). It’s so fun (and kinda addictive!).

      This is a strange thought but if you want to make a short 90 or 120 second video talking about what you get out of this community as more of an observer, I could put it on http://mathtwitterblogosphere.weebly.com/who-we-are.html ? Just let me know if you are interested (my email is samjshah at gmail). But no worries if not. I just think your perspective might help others who are lurkers and not know IT’S OKAY!

      • Sam ~ I’m going to pass on the video.

        Some thoughts on that:
        **no one wants to see an old lady on video
        **Because of my lurking, I’ve become interested in the Flipped Classroom but will not be videotaping myself for the homework but rather I will be posting with Livescribe so that students only see my work on paper.

        Thank you, again, for your blog post and reply. I appreciate both.

  15. Sam, love your blog, thoughts, #MTBoS presence, etc, but have been meaning to tell you for some time now that ever since you changed formats, many characters are dropping off posts. For example, all capital I’s and H’s are missing. I use Google Chrome on a PC, and if I switch to Firefox, it’s fine, but just thought you might want a head’s up because I’m probably not the only one having this issue.

  16. I find it amusing to see so many people who I admire step up and share some of the same trepidation and humility that I feel. It’s only been about 10 months since I joined twitter for educational purposes rather than finding ways to poke fun at my brother. In that short time, I’ve been overwhelmed with how many people are doing incredible things in their classroom. The problem is that it all sounds great and like we should be doing what ______ does. It was nice to read a very blunt explanation like yours to remind me that I’m not doing things *wrong* by not successfully completing a 3-Act, contributing a plethora of resources to the MTBoS, and more.

    Thank you.

  17. Thanks Sam! I appreciate this description of our awesome math community. I’ve been disconnected all summer and apparently missed some things, but that’s okay. Also, thanks for your incredible filing cabinet of resources, which is what I was looking for when I found this post.

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