The Real Value of the #MTBoS

October 6, 2013

Our friends over at Explore The MathTwitterBlogosphere have prepared a variety of opportunities for us math teachers to become better acquainted with this community that exists with one goal in mind. Take math teachers in and make them better. What distinguishes the #MTBoS as it has come to be known from other grass roots movements is that this movement is completely inclusive. We WANT you to join us because we all have something to share and something to learn.

As part of the exploration, Sam Shah (@samjshah) has asked us to consider an interesting question: What happens in my classroom that makes it distinctly mine?

Within my district, my practices and classroom policies are a little off the mainstream. My students get boatloads of exploration and practice activities. That isn’t unusual, except that more than half of the work I assign I neither collect, nor assign points to. Oh, and I try to avoid homework at all costs. I try to put students in an ability to use mathematics in ways that seem authentic. As a geometry teacher, this means that I use proof and algebra probably more sparingly than most, opting instead for visual explorations when appropriate. Also, I have an aversion to textbooks.

I believe in authenticity above all things. There is a belief that most students won’t do work that doesn’t have points attached. I have found the opposite to be true. I have noticed that students are more willing to explore and practice when we are honest about what it’s for. The same with homework. Homework doesn’t tend to be a very meaningful learning activity. So, I don’t use it very much.

We follow the same idea with Algebra. We use algebra… when it makes sense in the context to do so. We graph… when it makes sense in the context to do so. But transformational geometry doesn’t require these things. In fact, there are many different ways to explore the strategic transforming of shapes and figures. From an understanding of transformations, you can move toward congruence and similarity discussions. Similarity leads to proportional reasoning and then trig naturally follows. In my opinion, this is  fairly simple way to look at geometry course, but it has lead me in directions that are, as I said before, a little off the mainstream. It forced us to ditch our textbook, which was heavily, heavily algebraic. We had to replace it with our own handouts which were homemade or found on the #MTBoS. That opened up a ton of conversations about what good math looks like and what it will take to lead our students to it.

This is where the real value of the #MTBoS has shown off. The #MTBoS means never having to be alone, regardless of your thoughts or ideas. There’s someone who has thought that thought and discussed the possible implications on a blog somewhere. There’s someone who has tried an activity and tweeted about how it went. There’s someone who has a link to a handout and an e-mail address so that you can ask questions about how it got delivered. If you try it and blog about it, there’s people who will read your post and leave comments. It’s a form of individualized PD that is difficult to find elsewhere.

1. Interesting post. I also have an aversion to textbooks mostly because I can’t be bothered to carry a class set around with me as I’m in several classrooms and two sites.

• Oh my! Yeah, that will definitely change the way you lesson plan. No doubt about it. I hope that you find something that will help ease that load a bit.

2. Andrew I appreciate your thoughtfulness and trust in us, the MBToS. We span the spectrum from innovative and authentic, to getting our toes wet. I love it!

• There have been times when that spectrum described just me, depending on the topic. That’s part of what makes this so endearing.

3. It is so refreshing to hear that you 1) have an aversion to textbooks, and 2) don’t assign homework. I, too, have taken a step back from homework this year (I think much to the derision of my coworkers who don’t share my beliefs). I have found that my paperwork load is much less and the rich investigations I can facilitate in class or much more. I can’t wait to read more about what your classroom is like!

• Yeah, that was my initial motivation to eliminate homework. I couldn’t handle all the paperwork. Then it turned into a meaningless activity because I couldn’t read any of the work. I couldn’t provide any feedback. And as I toyed with the idea of eliminating it as a practice, I had coworkers telling me that I should keep homework because “homework is good for kids.”

I found this to be uninspiring. As I began to consider what it would mean to my class to never give homework, I found that I was working a lot harder to squeeze the very most out of every minute that I have those students in class, which has led to a lot of positive changes to my lesson planning.