The Best of the #MTBoS is Here!

Well, Tina and I didn’t plan it this way, but the publishing gods have given our little project a Pi Day release! We told you about it here, and now you can get your own copy for a good cause. 

Last year at Twitter Math Camp (TMC), participants were asked whether they paid their own way. Here was the show of hands:

  
(📷: @_levi_)

We know that there are some fantastic math teachers out there for whom the cost of TMC is prohibitive. We would love to have you join the fun and learning!

So please purchase a copy, give them as gifts to your colleagues, and re-tweet, re-post, and share!

Online preview (intro, table of contents with titles only, index, glossary):

https://mtbos2015.pressbooks.com

Direct purchase (more of the money goes to the scholarship if you buy from here):

https://www.createspace.com/6027355

Amazon Paperback:
http://www.amazon.com/Best-Math-Teacher-Blogs-2015/dp/1530388902/

Amazon Kindle:
http://www.amazon.com/Best-Math-Teacher-Blogs-2015/dp/1530388902/

The Best of the Math Teacher Blogs 2015

It’s never been easier to miss a great math blog post. The MathTwitterBlogoSphere –– known as #MTBoS around social media –– was once a small group of math teachers willing to make themselves vulnerable, putting their practice online. As the community has expanded, even the most dedicated readers struggle to keep up with the deluge of thoughtful commentary, engaging and interesting tasks, and stories that we can all learn from.

To help keep you from missing out, we have compiled some favorite posts from this past year, as nominated by #MTBoS folks on Twitter, into a book. These posts are as rich and varied as the educators who wrote them. Some delve into specific content. Some tell stories of change and growth. Others explore teaching practices, new or well established. We hope that you find some that provoke and push you, and others that make you smile. Most of all, we hope you make some new connections in the MTBoS community.

This book has another purpose as well. Since 2012, folks from the MTBoS have participated in an annual “tweet up,” a two-day math extravaganza called Twitter Math Camp (TMC). Unlike regular conferences, teachers come knowing who they want to meet. They come to continue conversations that have been taking place online, through blogs and twitter. TMC is a rich and personal learning environment. The grassroots nature of TMC means it is lively, personal, tailor-made, and unpredictable. However, most teachers have to pay their own way. We will use the money raised through sales of this book to start a fund to bring along some of the teachers who would not otherwise be able to participate. We think that TMC is a unique professional learning experience, and we hope to share it while we grow our community.

The book is nearly ready for publication, but we need assistance with a few tasks (we’d like to add an index and list embedded links at the bottom of each post so they’re accessible to anyone reading a paper copy). If you’re interested in assisting please email Tina (tina.cardone1 on gmail) and she’ll get you set up with a task.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for your support.

— Lani Horn & Tina Cardone
P.S. Sorry that we were super secret on this project! We didn’t decide to do this until after the #MTBoS2015 conversation started. We were so impressed by the quality of the nominated posts, it seemed like a great opportunity to do something for this amazing community. As long as we are confessing, we also didn’t announce it until now because we weren’t sure we’d be able to finish it! If people like the idea then we’ll have a more public and organized process for 2016.

Teachers’ Work Conditions

Today I was feeling chatty on twitter, so I wished everybody a good morning. It’s nice to hear about what is going on with folks, so it’s a pleasant way to start a day. I got several responses from people I was happy to hear from.

One exchange in particular got me thinking. At an early hour, where I still had one last child to bring to school, Tina Cardone had already attended an intense IEP meeting and faced off with complaining students.

In just a few tweets, Tina reminded me of some challenges of teaching, ones that are beyond the reach of teacher preparation or most education reforms: teachers’ work conditions. Most of the public debate about the profession skips the work conditions part (although there certainly are many discussions of teacher compensation).

An IEP meeting is usually an add-on to a teachers’ day. Teachers need to attend, both because they are legally beholden to IEPs but also to provide a team feedback on student. However, this time is not typically compensated. The teacher comes early, gives up a preparation period, or stays after school to attend an IEP meeitng.

Aggrieved students can be an emotional drain, as a teacher can find herself defending her professional judgement about something  — a grade, an assignment, a grouping arrangement — to a group of young people who may not see the big picture of her work.

Finally, Tina threw in the bit about her “lunch” time being scheduled for 10:30 AM. It brought me back to my last teaching job, when I was pregnant and hungry at odd times throughout the day. I have talked to other pregnant teachers who commiserate about that physical struggle. The half hour teachers typically get for lunch is seldom enough to eat properly in the best of circumstances. Throw in an early time slot or a physical condition that requires extra nourishment, it becomes difficult to keep the energy and mood up.

I am not singling Tina out here. To be sure, Tina knows how to hit the re-set button better than most folks. She is a frequent tweeter on the #onegoodthing hashtag (some of her #MTBoS pals even have a blog dedicated to this). Even in telling me about what was going on, she took these conditions as a part of the deal, focusing on what she could do: take her preparation time to get her emotions together (“re-centering”) so she can be in a good space for the rest of her classes.

When I think about conversations about teacher turnover, I notice how little we attend to these very basic conditions. Even when talk about making schools welcoming and comfortable places for students, we too often skip the part about making schools welcoming and comfortable places for teachers. We pay attention to school climate for kids so they can do their best work. What would happen if we did the same for teachers?

Here is one idea that could alleviate some of the time intensity of teachers’ work: What if schools staffed one or two adults as permanent in-house substitutes, whose primary job it is to know the students, teachers, and classrooms, so they can step in seamlessly when somebody needs a moment for re-centering after a difficult meeting, to compensate teachers’ time taken for additional meetings, or to allow a pregnant teacher to step out and use the bathroom during class?

In the years since NCLB, I have seen schools find funding for “data managers” so they can generate the tables and spreadsheets needed for evidence-based practice. Why not support teachers in bringing their best selves to each class by giving them an additional resource through by funding the floating support person?

What other ideas do you have for improving teachers’ work conditions?

#TMC15 Reflection: Gratitude

Last week, I had the pleasure of joining 200 math educators for Twitter Math Camp (#TMC15) at Harvey Mudd.

TMC is a place with a lot of heart: part reunion, part meet up, and a whole lot of hugs and mathy goodness. Most everybody travels on their own dime. They come because they want to connect to people who have sustained them and helped them grow as teachers. They want to deepen their mathematical knowledge and expand their teaching toolkit, alongside people of goodwill.

Heart. Many of us connected to Christopher Danielson‘s admonition:

Find what you love. Do more of that.

TMC was like a re-set on me for connecting to my purpose.

And I realize that what I love is being with really thoughtful and passionate teachers. So I am grateful for that. I felt recharged after having the chance to attend workshops and learn alongside everyone. I also made some great connections to thoughtful research colleagues. We are already scheming.

Heart. Like when Fawn Nguyen made us both laugh and cry, describing what she has learned after 25 years of teaching.

I also had a chance to give a keynote. It was about how teachers can use social media to grow their own practice. I have studied math teachers’ learning extensively, mostly by listening to them talk with colleagues. I challenged myself to think about how to apply what I have learned in real life professional communities to the online space known as #MTBoS (which, I learned, we can say aloud as “mit-boss”).

Here is a link to my slides. I don’t know how much it will make sense as a slideshow. I am trying to track down the guy with the video camera in the third row so you can hear me.

So thank you to everyone who organized #TMC15, especially Lisa Henry, who knows how to build community like nobody’s business. Thank you to everybody who participated, both IRL and virtually. I look forward to continuing to learn with you.

UPDATE 1: Here is the YouTube of my talk (Part 1 and Part 2 — thanks Richard Villanueva! You can also see Fawn and Christopher’s talks on the same playlist.)

UPDATE 2: Here is a googledoc started by Jonathan Newman for us to put in common teaching problems, along with unproductive framings vs. actionable framings of those problems.

What are the Grand Challenges in Mathematics Education

Back in March, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics put out a call for Grand Challenges in Mathematics Education.

A Grand Challenge is supposed to spur the field by providing a focus for research. NCTM came up with the following criteria for a Grand Challenge in math education:

Research Commentary-Grand Challenges_1

So I ask you to help the brainstorm. What are the complex yet solvable problems we face in mathematics education that can have a great impact on people’s lives?

Add your thoughts in the comments below or through Twitter (@tchmathculture). Use the hashtag #NCTMGrandChallenge.

What I Notice and Wonder about Teaching Like a Champion

Last night, Chris Robinson shared an experience with an administrator who observed his math classroom. He had been doing an activity called Noticing and Wondering with his students, something that Max Ray of the Math Forum has written about extensively. Noticing and wondering is a great discussion starter. You share a mathematical object or situation with children and open up the floor to their curiosity. They can connect the mathematical thing with their own ideas, then a teacher can shape the conversation by building connections to formal math.

Here is the administrator’s feedback:

Now, I am not naive. I understand that our lack of consensus about good teaching leaves a lot of room for interpretation about what is working and what is not. The administrator was obviously perplexed by the wide berth Chris gave to his students to wonder about the math. Kids do say and think goofy things, as do all people. But sometimes our odd ideas need a good airing to connect to what we are learning.

Normally, seeing Chris’s tweet would frustrate me. What do we need to do to drive a wedge between people’s confusion about students being compliant and being engaged? What do we need to do to help educators understand that the path to deep understanding is often not a straight line, and that to connect ideas to our lives, our own thinking –– goofy or not –– needs a chance to come out?

Yesterday, however, the administrator’s problematic response did more than frustrate me. As I told Chris (and the others on the thread):

In my class Teaching as a Social Practice, we have been discussing the consequences of our lack of consensus on the nature of good teaching. We often examine what gets put out and circulated as good teaching and hold it against various research on things like  how kids learn or how teachers can teach responsively.

I showed this Doug Lemov video related to his best-selling book, Teach Like a Champion, with the intent to dissect the underlying assumptions about teaching and learning. The 100% technique is a way of managing students’ attention during instruction. Take two minutes to watch it.

What do you notice? What do you wonder?

I notice that these are all White teachers and that the students are nearly all Black.

fold hands

I wonder why the teacher (above) is signalling this boy to have his hands folded. I wonder if there is any research anywhere showing that folded hands will help with his learning.

Whisper to Jasmin

I notice that when this teacher reprimands this student for not having the answer to a question (1:11 on the video), she jumps immediately to the assumption that the girl needs to work harder. I wonder why the teacher doesn’t ask her if she has any questions about what was being asked or if everything is okay today.

Giving you a gift

I notice that this teacher says the following to his class as a motivational speech (1:44):

I can bring it to you but I can’t give it to you. You’ve got to reach for it. If they were free at Toys R Us you would reach. I’m giving you the same kind of gift, just not wrapped up. The gift of knowledge.

I wonder what is going on in this metaphor. I am wondering if I ever have seen wrapped up gifts at Toys R Us. I wonder if other overly analytical kids in this class also got lost down this rabbit hole of wondering.

I wonder if the kids would like the gift of being able to keep their hands unfolded and moving their bodies more freely more than the gift of repeating after the teacher in the name of “knowledge.”

____

What does all this have to do with Chris and his interaction with his administrator?

Teach Like a Champion has been a huge seller, especially in urban schools. It’s highly rated and ranked on Amazon and I have talked to numerous new teachers who report getting handed a copy by administrators. There is even a new edition Champion 2.0.

Activities like noticing and wondering open up classroom discussions and invite kids (goofy ideas and all) to think. Techniques like 100% in Teach Like a Champion limit permissible activity and thinking by students.  Contrasting the two is a productive microcosm on current debates about teaching. The issue is particularly urgent in urban classrooms, where methods like those promoted in Champion emphasize the control of Black and Brown bodies by White teachers instead of the celebration of children’s own ideas. This is especially troubling given what we know about disproportionate discipline of these children.

With this vision of teaching dominating the landscape, it becomes increasingly difficult for teachers like Chris Robinson to invite their children to think with him in the classroom without the risk of being reprimanded.

How Does School Culture Reflect Middle Class Culture?

Class is rarely talked about in the United States; nowhere is there a more intense silence about the reality of class differences than in educational settings.

bell hooks

One of the things teachers often hear in the course of teacher education is that school culture typically reflects middle class culture. For teachers who grew up middle class, this statement can be perplexing. It’s like trying to alert fishes to the unique presence of water: they are so immersed in it that alternatives cannot be fully imagined.

Yet class shapes everything from interactional styles to the kinds of competencies valued in the home. In her famous ethnography of class and American childhoods, Annette Lareau characterized working class and poor families as tending to promote natural growth in children. These parents tend to let children determine their leisure activities. When they interject authority, they tend to do so with directives.

lareau cover

In contrast, middle-class families tended to practice a form of parenting Lareau calls concerted cultivation. These parents tended to equate good parenting with deliberate development of their children’s talents, especially through organized leisure activities. They also used fewer directives, instead reasoning with their children when seeking to change their behavior.

(There are other contrasts between these approaches to parenting, as summarized in this table.)

Lareau’s point is not that one style is better than the other, but instead to point out that school often assumes middle class parenting, leaving poor and working class families with less of an institutional fit. In fact, as somebody who was raised in this manner, I personally see many strengths that come out of the accomplishment of natural growth. Children have more opportunities to develop autonomy and engage in more social problem solving than children whose leisure activities are organized and led by adults.

How do these middle class assumptions play out in school? Classrooms are crowded places, and teachers frequently need to direct children’s attention and activities. Many teachers tend toward the middle class style of suggesting a transition (“Would you like to join us on the rug?”) rather than directing it (“Please come to the rug now”). If you are used to the latter, the former can be understandably ambiguous and confusing.

What is more, middle class children, through their greater experience with formally organized leisure activities, usually come to school with tacit understandings about how to participate. They have more experience responding to the authority of a non-kin adult with whom they will likely form a superficial and transitory relationship. In contrast, if your early socialization has been primarily with family, taking directions from a stranger may seem like a strange and maybe not entirely wise endeavor.

There are also subject-specific ways that social class makes school more or less a fit with children. Valerie Walkerdine has documented the ways class can interact with mathematics education in particular. She points to the quantitative fictions common to math class, describing, for example, an elementary number game requiring the “purchase” of various items for 1 to 10 pence and then making change. The working class children she observed, whose lives were much more consequentially tied to actual prices of things, found the premise of the game absurd. As I often tell my pre-service teachers, which of your students knows where to find the best price on a gallon of milk, and which simply look to make sure it’s organic? How does that change your job in making sure the cost in your word problem is realistic?

To feel comfortable participating in classrooms, children need to have a reason to be there. They need to see a connection to their lives and experience a sense of belonging. Social class differences are sometimes the source of cultural barriers to feeling like you belong in school, that school is a place that matters, that things make sense. Teachers need to be thoughtful in how they bridge these differences with their students.

Relational Density in the Classroom

Recently, Michael Pershan has been thinking about why it’s so hard for teachers to share knowledge and ideas. He has been playing with building cases to discuss as teachers, wondering about what counts as sufficient description to invite consultation.

In my work, I find that one of the challenges to building shared professional knowledge comes from the irreducible situativity of teaching. If that sounds like an academic mouthful, my apologies. But what I mean is that we can’t escape how much of what works in teaching comes out of nuances of our practice and resources in our context that we may not even be aware of. Just as fish don’t see the water they swim in, so too teachers often miss things like community norms or material resources that shape what is possible in the classroom.

In addition, I think the relational part of teaching has been understudied –– especially in mathematics education. As I have said before, asking students to share their thinking is a socially risky proposition and depends on the relationships in the classroom and the norms for participation.

Here is Courtney Cazden on this:

“In more traditional classrooms, social relationships are extracurricular, potential noise in the instructional system and interference with ‘real’ schoolwork. What counts are relationships between the teacher and each student as an individual, both in whole-class lessons and in individual seat-work assignments. In nontraditional classrooms, the situation has fundamentally changed. Now each student becomes a significant part of the official learning environment for all the others” (2001, p. 131)

So to get students to share their ideas, teachers have to attend not only to their individual relationships with students, but to students’ relationships with each other.

This is decidedly challenging work. Most classroom teaching situations exhibit tremendous relational density. As Philip Jackson observed decades ago, classrooms are among the most crowded of institutional settings. In order to function, they require some degree of cooperation from the students. Teachers often achieve that through setting up systems of compliance, by building relationships with students, or some combination of the two.

Although students who have an instrumental view of schooling are less dependent on a teacher’s relational skills, a teacher’s success often depends on engaging and shaping students’ sense of purpose.

But the relationships in the classroom do not simply exist between the teacher and students; they exist among the students themselves. Once we take this into account, the social complexity of the classroom is stunning. Instead of just seeing the relationship one teacher builds with each student, we must account for the combinations of relationships among the students themselves. As a consequence, the difference between having 16 students or 32 students in a classroom does not simply double the relational density of a classroom: each set of students has potential for harmony or conflict. Just considering the smaller class of 16, there are 120 possible pairings between students. In the larger class of 32, there are 496. The number of students only doubled, but the relational complexity has more than tripled.

CocktailPartyGraph_700

Figure 1. Student pair-wise relationships grow quadratically while the class size grows linearly. The red dots represent students, and the connecting lines represent potential relationships.The last diagram represents the relationships among 5 students and a teacher, illustrating the fast growing relational density with every added student.

Relational density serves as a backdrop of potentialities in classrooms: not all relationships are actively engaged. When I talk to experienced teachers, however, I notice that they are alert to the relational potentials across the classroom social network, usually framing them as classroom dynamics.

Returning to Michael Pershan’s question, how do we adequately capture these dynamics when we describe our teaching situations? Some teachers talk about the kids with “strong personalities” or “the quiet kids.” I have heard teachers talk about students who are hot spots in the classroom relational network: most other students have an active experience of liking or disliking them. These experienced teachers respond by building lessons with their hotspot students in mind, anticipating possibly corrosive behavior or harnessing potential leadership.

Obviously, not all teachers attend to classroom dynamics in this way. Whether or not these dynamics are  on a teacher’s radar, they contribute to the situativity of teaching. That is, we can’t really talk about teaching without addressing some of these particulars. Inattention to details of a teaching situation leads to invisibility in critical aspects of the work. This makes knowledge sharing hard.

So the question is: what sufficiently describes the character and dynamics of one situation to help teachers productively compare it to another? Often, teachers fall into language that relies on stereotyped understandings: an urban school, an honors class, an ADHD kid. These everyday categories stand in for broader dynamics but, in my view, do not adequately describe teaching situations.

Yet leaving critical dimensions of teaching situations underspecified contributes to the lack of consensus around expertise. What constitutes successful teaching remains hotly contested, evidenced by policy debates around standardized testing and value-added models of teaching. Grossly underdescribing teaching situations has led to an overdetermination of desirable, visible outcomes like test scores. In this way, invisibility creates a reliance on other kinds of representations of the work when communicating about instruction.

Teacher Community and Professional Learning

One of the things I study is how teachers learn with colleagues. I focus primarily on urban secondary math teachers. I basically film people working together and analyze it to death. I am interested in this because teacher collaboration is repeatedly shown to support both teacher learning and student achievement, so I am curious about why.

First things first. Strong collaboration is very rare. Very few high school teachers report even simply sharing ideas with colleagues. Productive collaboration goes beyond just sharing ideas or resources into what I have called collaborative pedagogical problem solving. This is really unusual but super cool when I get to see it.

I want to make two points about what I have observed, and then pose some questions to the #MTBoS .

Observation 1: Effective collaboration is hard.

There are a number of challenges to effective collaboration. First of all, it takes an investment of time, energy, and emotional commitment. These are scarce resources, particularly in high turnover schools. Teachers face a lot of structural obstacles to collaborative learning. The typical 50 minutes of daily planning time, for instance, is already overfull with the demands of grading, planning, and home communication.

Second, it’s hard to talk about instruction with colleagues. When teachers talk about instruction, this is almost always asynchronous from the active work of instruction. Unlike scientists, who have standardized ways of representing what happened in the laboratory, teachers do not have standardized ways of representing what happened in a lesson. We can use things like student work, but then we do not have standard ways of interpreting these. Some teachers will look at student work with a right/wrong lens, while others will want to understand a students’ thinking.

At the same time, one of the advantages of working in a school-based teacher community is that your colleagues are close by: they know your administrators, they know your community, they know your students. You don’t have to explain those things to them, which makes the description part of sharing a little easier.

Observation 2: Typical teacher collaborative talk does not support deep professional learning. When I have analyzed the learning opportunities in teachers’ conversations, I have looked at two things:

(1) what conceptual resources are being developed as teachers talk about instructional problems, and

(2) how are these connected to their future work.

Most teacher collaborative talk does not offer much in the way of professional learning.

For example, most teachers plan together by organizing a pacing calendar. They will say things like, “The book says 7.1 will take 1 day, but with our kids we’ll need 2.”

In this case, the opportunities to learn are thin. We don’t know what the math content is, we don’t know why we need two days, and we don’t know how that extra time will be used.

In contrast, if teachers plan by building on students’ thinking, their talk may sound different. They will say things like, “Our kids freeze when we do fractions. Let’s just focus on these problems as rates of change. We can show them on the graph how this is change over time, like, “for every 5 seconds, the car moves 10 feet.'”

In this case, concepts are developed about who the students are, what their experiences of math are, and what instruction might look like to keep them engaged and develop their mathematical understanding. These concepts are directly linked to what the teachers will do next in their classrooms.

MTBoS Challenges:

Regarding Observation 1: In some ways, the bloggy/tweety teachers have overcome some of the limitations of school-based teacher community by finding like-minded folks online. They have found their kindred spirits to share with. This is awesome and overcomes some of the limitations of traditional collaboration. Also, the MTBoS are typically tech savvy. I have been impressed with the ways they manage to represent their classrooms through samples of student work, lesson plans, photos of their classrooms with kids doing things. But, other details of our teaching situations –– the tetchy administrator, the new curriculum policy –– are not as readily available.

Is this an issue? How much does this limit what teachers can learn together online?

Regarding Observation 2: I have seen so many impressive exchanges among teachers in the MTBoS. Most of these have focused on dissecting mathematical content, sharing rich activities, and refining instructional language. It seems harder to share about the particulars of students and their thinking because those are so much more specific to people’s schools.

Is it possible to hit the sweet spot of professional learning –– to develop concepts about the interrelationships among students, teaching, and mathematics  –– through online interactions?

Informal Poll on on Math Edu Tweeters

In preparation for a discussion some of us are going to have at NCTM, I conducted a totally unscientific poll of the #MTBoS and others in the general math edu constellation. I wanted to get a snapshot of how math educators engaged with others through social media so I could feel more confident sharing my impressions with the wider world.

I asked three questions.

  1. How often do you engage with educators on twitter?

  2. Which of the following ways do you engage with other teachers online?

  3. Please describe the most useful learning experience you have had online. You can provide links to specific posts or tweets.

Question 1 revealed how totally unrandom my sample was. I would say it characterized my sample (n =52) as highly involved in social media. Most respondents tweet almost every day.

Image

This means that the casual users, the lurkers, the toe-dippers are not well represented in this poll. That’s fine. This gives us a good picture of why people would feel like engaging heavily in social media. It’s a good group to hear from.

For Question 2, I let folks select as many answers as they needed. I didn’t ask for “top three ways” or anything, so some categories were frequently selected.

Image

Tweeting, reading blogs, and writing blogs were the most frequently selected uses of social media. Less than half of our heavy users reported participating in real-time exchanges like #edu chats or the Global Math Department. Slightly more (but still less than half) talked about collaborating on specific projects using google docs or other collaborative environments.

Question 3, what was the most useful learning experience you have had, let me get my qualitative analysis game on. Aside from the frequent response of that it was hard to pick one, people pointed to the following kinds of learning via social media:

  • Idea exchange: This was one of the most frequent responses. Twitter was especially praised for the access it provides to others’ ideas: “I post a question. People come along and make me smarter.” Reading and writing blogs and tweeting let people share ideas and comment on others’ ideas about their math teaching. As one respondent described, “Whenever I’m interested in a new approach to teaching something, I can read many different implementations and see how it actually looks in the classroom. Helps make my abstract ideas more concrete.” A number of teachers pointed to the rich resources as providing more opportunities for personal development, as new ideas become more immediately accessible: “Being able to find lesson ideas, extension materials, and intriguing pics and videos has brought a whole new dimension to my classroom.”
  • Sharing resources: Teachers have to plan lessons everyday. Social media is a great way for sharing resources. By turning to an online community, teachers know something of the values and practices of their sources. As one teacher described, “The idea/lesson exchange is better than a huge google death for activities.” Sometimes folks get new preps or new groups of students who require different kinds of materials, or sometimes teachers realize that their old lessons aren’t quite doing all they could. “A few years ago I was informed I was teaching a brand new AP course three weeks before school started. I was scrambling for resources so I took to twitter. The amount of support and resources I gathered from teacher on twitter was a life saver.” Teachers will often document their new work as they build new classes, only adding to the accumulation of resources in the community.
  • Connecting with like-minded educators: A number of responses indicated that many educators who develop professional learning networks online do so to break the isolation they feel in their own schools or departments. “Just the several years I’ve had building my PLN (and making friends!) has been invaluable. I’m not sure I could point to anything specific. It changed my career.”
  • Constructing resources together: Question 2 shows that this is not as common of a practice, but those who have done it have reported its value to their professional learning.”I think the biggest learning experiences for me have been the times when I’ve constructed a resource with others online and we’ve learned as we’ve gone through the act of co-creating.” One example of a collaboratively developed resource is Nix the Tricks, whose curator Tina Cardone explained, “There’s no way I would ever have taken on this project without the crowd sourcing and the encouragement that the MTBoS provides.”
  • Developing shared critiques of educational tools and practices: Teachers, especially those committed to developing student understanding, are facing challenges on numerous professional fronts. A few teachers mentioned the support they find for particular visions of teaching. Additionally, the online community has developed numerous critiques of popular teaching tools like Khan Academy. “The mtt2k (Mystery Teacher Theatre) initiative [see an example here] encouraged me to learn more about Khan as well as doing my own video editing, plus sparked new connections.” There is a lot to keep up on the educational landscape. As one teacher described, “Twitter is my education newsfeed!!”
  • Getting emotional and moral support: Especially when teachers are working against the institutional grain, pursuing more ambitious forms of instruction can get discouraging at times. A number of teachers mentioned the emotional support they get from colleagues online. “The most valuable past of this for me is knowing there are other teachers out there that are working towards the same goals as me. That there are other teachers that will support me in my journey to those goals.” Teachers also talked about getting more specific images of the kinds of classrooms they aspired to and having people to vent with on hard days.
  • Learning about a specific practice, tool, or idea: A number of responses pointed to teachers who developed specific interests and pursued them in online communities. Some examples were practices like standards based grading, tools like desmos or GeoGebra, or unexpected insights into mathematical topics.

How did our enthusiasts do in capturing the learning potential of online professional communities? How did our friendly neighborhood educational researcher do in summarizing the responses? Is there anything that particularly resonates or that you think I left out?

Please share! I am going to be telling the world –– okay, at least the people coming to our session –– what this whole thing is about, and I am committed to getting it as right as possible.