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Let’s Retire #MTBoS [as an INTRODUCTION to Math Teacher Twitter]

2017 Jul 31. I have apologized directly to a number of people for aspects of this post. Among others, I apologized to the organizers of Twitter Math Camp (including Lisa Henry, Mary Bourassa, Tina Cardone, James Cleveland, Daniel Forrester, Megan Hayes-Golding, Cortni Muir, Jami Packer, Sam Shah, Glenn Waddell) for posting it during their camp weekend and distracting even a bit from their efforts. Loads of other people stepped up in unofficial, totally voluntary ways to make TMC an awesome, inviting time, and I regret however much I spoiled their efforts.

This community has also been built and nurtured by hundreds of people in thousands of big and small ways – from huge initiatives like Twitter Math Camp, ExploreMTBoS, and Global Math Department, down to folks who watch out for new Twitter users and say “howdy.” This post wasn’t and isn’t meant to critique any of those efforts, but I realize that it came across that way, and that was wrong of me. Precisely because there are thousands of those efforts, I can’t reach out and apologize to each of you individually for dismissing them, so please accept my apology here. Keep on making this place awesome.

Whatever else you think of this post, the people who have commented on it and whose tweets I’ve excerpted below are real people who have found our name alienating. (Not the community. The name itself.) That’s a problem that countless people in the last few days have told me isn’t worth tackling, or one that pales in comparison to other problems. I respect that opinion. I’d like to work on it anyway, and also work on the other problems. But rather than use my platform here to set a unilateral course, I should have found out who is already doing that work and found out how I could help. I’m generally skeptical of leaders and I’ve never been particularly eager to be one, but that isn’t any excuse for setting a bad example. If you’re doing that work, and if I can help or collaborate, please let me know in the comments or at dan@mrmeyer.com.

2017 Jul 28. Thanks to everyone who helped me think this through, especially the ones who did so in spite of being annoyed and hurt. Much love to you all, and to this place. My current plan is to introduce teachers to Math Teacher Twitter by inviting them to attach “#iteachmath” to a tweet, a tag that is intuitive, pronounceable, and importantly, a declarative statement. Meanwhile, “#MTBoS” has less certain pronunciation and, for newcomers, it has been unintuitive and felt a bit like you’re inviting yourself into a secret club. (Seriously, don’t trust me on this. Read the dozens of tweets and comments I’ve excerpted below.) I hope that the thousands of people who find community around “#MTBoS” will continue to enjoy it! But I’m hopeful that “#iteachmath” will be a better invitation for the hundreds of thousands of math teachers who don’t yet know how great we have it.

The original post follows.

——

I’m not asking us to retire the #MTBoS (unabbreviated: the Math Twitterblogosphere) the collection of people, ideas, and relationships that has provided the most satisfying professional development and community of my life.

I’m asking us to stop referring to it as “the MTBoS” and to stop using the hashtag “#MTBoS” in online conversations.

That’s because this community is only as good as the people we invite into it. We currently represent only the tiniest fraction of the math teachers in the world, which means we (and I’d like to believe they also) are missing out.

That fraction will stay tiny so long as our name alienates people. And it alienates people.

People don’t know how to pronounce our name. Whenever I use it, I get tweets back asking me what I’m talking about. Whenever I invite new teachers to get on Twitter and search for “#MTBoS,” their confusion is plain at that seemingly random assortment of vowels and consonants, capitalized in seemingly random ways.

This morning I read a tweet from a science teacher named Andrew Morrison. I learned from Andrew that the physics teaching community hashtags their work “#iteachphysics.” I felt such a sense of invitation when I read that hashtag – “This is who we are and what we do. You should join us.” And then I felt envy.

We should be so inviting.

This community of ours has no leader. It has no high council. Each one of us has to be the change we want to see in it. I want to see a more inviting community, a community that doesn’t shroud its entrance behind a hedge or protect its door with a password.

So I’m going to stop referring to my participation in “the MTBoS” and instead talk about how much I love “Math Teacher Twitter.” I’m going to stop tweeting using “#MTBoS” and instead tweet using “#iteachmath.”

No one has to join me, and I absolutely won’t be offended if you don’t, but I hope you will, and I hope you at least understand why I’m doing this. I think this change is necessary for our growth and this is how I’ll try to be that change.

Reservations That I Had About This Proposal That I Don’t Anymore

“#iteachmath” is five more characters than “#MTBoS. That’s five fewer characters for my tweets!”

I accept that those five characters are the cost of a more inviting community.

Twitter users outside the United States will want to use “#iteachmaths.”

The MTBoS has a very, very tiny handful of community members outside the United States as it is. I think we can only improve from here. Me, I’m going to add both “#iteachmaths” and “#iteachmath” to the same column in Tweetdeck.

“MTBoS” includes blogs (the “B”) but “Math Teacher Twitter” just refers to Twitter.

“MTBoS” also fails to refer to Slack, Voxer, or any of the other ways teachers collaborate online. “Math Teacher Twitter” hints at all those ways. It doesn’t try to catalog them.

But I’m a coach / consultant / curriculum author / administrator. I don’t teach math so I’ll feel weird using “#iteachmath”.

Let’s not treat this hashtag like it’s a sworn statement in a court of law. It’s an invitation. It’s how we’ll gather community around a conversation. It doesn’t need to serve any higher purpose than that, and I think it’ll serve that purpose better than anything we have right now.

Featured Tweets

Justin’s tweet seems really, really important to me. Consider the perceived requirements for membership in the #MTBoS vs. #iteachmath.

#MTBoS: who knows, but a blood sample and credit verification is probably part of it.

#iteachmath: it’s right there in the hashtag. That’s it. No guessing. You’re invited.

Via direct message:

I always felt a little worried or unsure about joining the community and when it was ok to tweet #mtbos.

Also via direct message:

I actually had to look up the #MTBoS. I am not a member and not sure I am a blogger. I do have a question for the group. May I ask a question with the hashtag without the membership? Thank you!

And on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on.

Featured Comments

Angel Martinez:

I joined the community of online teachers this last year and attended the national conference. MTBoS felt like a secret society that I wished to be a part of but didn’t know how to get in.

Cathy Yenca:

… my honest-to-goodness first thought about being invited was, “Am I ‘in’ the #MTBoS ‘enough’ to speak about it with these other mathies who seem to be ‘in’ it ‘more’?

kimberley:

This makes me happy. For months when I first discovered #MTBoS, I had no idea what it stood for and felt so left out! And then I had no idea how to talk about it to others. (And usually resorted to “it’s basically math teacher twitter.”)

Diane:

100% agree…I (found) find #MTBoS “clickish…and therefore offputting…even if/though that isn’t (wasn’t) the intent, it has (had) a mysterious and exclusive feel which made me, a 30 year teacher, feel “out of the loop”

Beth Baker:

Thank you, I’m on board! #MTBoS confuses me and I even know what it stands for.

2017 Jul 28.

This proposal made the rounds among the veterans of, let me try this out, Math Teacher Twitter, and they largely aren’t buying it. No hard feelings on my end. This project has become sharper with feedback from the community.

Here are the four most common responses.

We are inviting, in particular at Twitter Math Camp.

I have no doubt that everyone at Twitter Math Camp who comes within forty feet of Julie or the other organizers will feel warm and welcomed. But TMC hosts only a few hundred math teachers out of millions. What is the best way to invite people into this community who have never sent a tweet? Or who have only watched other people tweet? Too many people find our current approach alienating. Check the featured tweets and featured comments above for a sample. If they bother you, what solutions are you thinking about?

This is their problem, not ours.

If the alienated people in the featured tweets and comments above don’t burden you, or if you think their lack of comprehension at our hashtag and how to use it is their own problem, don’t let this proposal weigh on you for a second more. And don’t feel any guilt from me about it. This is my project, which doesn’t mean it has to be yours.

This won’t fix everything.

Using a different hashtag won’t make everything great. Totally true. I think it’s a necessary step, and an important one since it’s our figurative front door, but it’s insufficient. How can we sufficiently welcome teachers to professional community online? I don’t know, but I’m enjoying that conversation also.

I won’t use #iteachmath because I don’t teach math.

I’ve already addressed this above, but it’s possible that #iteachmath isn’t ever going to feel right for folks who aren’t practicing classroom teachers. That makes a lot of sense to me. I have may have chosen the wrong hashtag for these efforts, but that doesn’t change the reality of all the alienated teachers in the featured tweets and featured comments above. If they weigh on you as they do on me, let me know the solutions you’re thinking about.

I’m not sure if it’ll surprise you to find out that the people most enthusiastic about this proposal have been a) classroom teachers, and b) total strangers to me online. Very few people whose names I recognized. These are people whose ideas may nourish us, people who may need our nourishment also.

So here’s a new proposal: let’s treat “#iteachmath” as the welcoming lobby for new Twitter teachers. When I meet new teachers at conferences or in professional development, I want to recommend they post an idea or a question to a hashtag they’ll find intuitive and inviting. From there, perhaps a bit more emboldened, I hope they’ll venture out towards any number of our other hashtags and communities.

2017 Jul 29. Harry O’Malley has written up a really interesting proposal extending these ideas.

2017 Aug 7. Interesting to see medium-sized groups of educators with fewer than 30 combined tweets and followers popping up on the #iteachmath hashtag. See: Algebra for All; #NCLargeMath

How Do You Turn Something Interesting Into Something Challenging?

[Correction: an oil barrel contains 158,987.295 ml.]

Nat Torkington writes the Four Short Links column for O’Reilly’s Radar, highlighting interesting articles around the web on a daily (or near-daily) basis. Recently, he’s pitched me a few links via e-mail under the heading “WCYDWT?” which, due to my fallen nature, I have taken as a challenge to my sacred honor.

Here’s one: the relative price of different liquids which illustrates the disturbing fact that HP printer ink is several orders of magnitude more expensive than crude oil.

So I opened our first day back from winter break with a learning moment built around Nat’s link and then recorded video of the moment which you’ll find below. My apologies in advance for the pitiful production value. Initially, I was going to forward this only to Nat as some kind of retort but I found the experience so difficult, messy, and exhilarating, I had to debrief myself here. Notwithstanding the video quality, you’re welcome to pummel me for anything you see.

Classroom Video

Classroom Video — HP Ink Costs More Than Blood from Dan Meyer on Vimeo.

Color Commentary

Synonymous with “What Can You Do With This?” is “How Do You Turn Something Interesting Into Something Challenging?” I have asked educators that question on this blog, in online classes, and in several conference presentations over several years. Here is — by far — the most common answer:

“I’d put it on the wall and we’d talk about it.”

Which is a weak start. A certain kind of student inevitably dominates these pseudo-Socratic discussions and then invites another kind of student to disengage. But Nat has dealt us a strong hand. If we play those cards right, we can retain and empower a lot of those (mathematically and conversationally) reticent students.

1. Calm down with the math for a moment. Invite their intuition.

At one point in my career, I would have led this off by giving them all the data and asking them to compute the ratio of cost to volume. but my blue students are poorly-served by that approach. So many of them have been burned so badly by math that if I open the conversation with terms like “ratio” and “volume,” pushing numbers and structure right at them, I’ll lose the students I want to keep. Moreover, this confuses master with slave. We use math to make sense of the world around us more often than the reverse.

So I put seven liquids on the wall and asked them to rank them from most expensive to least. Simple speculation. Nothing more mathematical than that. Please imagine, here, how much more fun it is to walk around and talk about the question, “Which do you think is the most expensive?” rather than the lead balloon “Which has the highest ratio of cost to volume?”

Ask a student to come up and share her ranking with the class. Argue a bit. Entertain opposing opinions. Ask a student if he’d trade a can of Red Bull for a can of his own blood. Student investment at this point is very nearly 100%. It’s mine to lose.

2. Slowly lower mathematical structure onto their intuition.

“Here’s the answer,” I told them, but students know at this point to triple-check me. Several went straight for Red Bull, which totes does not cost $51.15.

“So you’re saying that how much you get matters as much as how much it costs.”

Fine.

We used cell phones to text Google and ask for unit conversion. This always strikes my students as magical and suspicious.

And here, finally, we talked about the ratio of the cost of blood to how much blood you get. I asked them to visualize one milliliter of blood. “What does .40 mean?” We talked about the cost of one milliliter and how it’s useful to compare that cost across liquids.

The rest (hopefully) writes itself, though, for the record, I kind of hate how explain-y I get in the last third of the video.

The Virtuous Cycle Specific To Our Line Of Work

  1. Find an interesting thingIt’s sad how often the conversation with other teachers ends here, after it becomes obvious that they just aren’t interested in all that much..
  2. Transform that interesting thing into a classroom challenge.
  3. Help your students develop tools to resolve that interesting challenge.
  4. [Optional] Blog about it.
  5. Repeat.

The feeds in your reader then spiral upwards and out of your control. WCYDWT ideas begin to pile up faster than you can capture them. It’ll freak you out and you’ll wish you could turn it off for just a few hours while you’re watching TV but you realize this a rare ancillary benefit in an occasionally tortuous job and you accept it gratefully.

[BTW: Mr. K rightly points out that this problem is of a piece with the nickel thieves from a few years back.]

[BTW: You should read Burt’s commentary on the lack of real-world meaning of these statistics.]

[BTW: Great list of liquids and prices here.]