Making the Leap: From Lurker to Participant

I just recently returned from Twitter Math Camp, a grassroots professional development run by members of the Math Twitter Blog-o-Sphere (#MTBoS). It was the most UNBELIEVABLE week of my life. I learned more than I could have hoped, and finally got to #InRealLife meet my internet friends and family. While I was at #TMC17, Dan Meyer posted about Retiring the #MTBoS Hashtag, and I had a lot of emotions. Most of them resembled feeling hurt. This is my internet family. I have always felt a part of the warm and loving mathematical community that he helped shape and mold. His posting was edited and amended over the course of the week, but I still felt…something resembling pain. I think I know what Dan was trying to start, a conversation about making the #MTBoS more user-friendly, but it stung a bit. I’m glad the conversation’s been put out there. And I see our community doing the work to increase our user-friendly-ness.

Before I continue, let me say:

I am a proud member of the #MTBoS. I found Dan Meyer’s blog in grad school, and the 3-act task structure he introduced me to changed my teaching for the better. While I found Dan in 2012 and #MTBoS in 2013, I was a (proud) lurker. I’d tell every math teacher I met about this WONDERFUL group of math teachers who put their classroom content and mathematical souls out on the inter-web for all to see.

In 2015 I boldly used the #MTBoS hashtag for the first time. I started to transition from lurker to participant. But even then, in the prime of my transitional-lurking days, I mostly re-tweeted, and liked, and asked questions offering up little to nothing in return. But that’s what I love about this community. I asked, and asked, and asked, and my #MTBoS family stepped up and gave all they had without critique or judgement.

I’m proud of my lurker days. Lurking was a necessary part of my development as a teacher. I wasn’t ready to put myself out on the internet in 2013, or 2014, or damn, even in 2015 really–I wasn’t ready for that level of vulnerability online.

To be clear: That feeling of not being ready to proactively join the #MTBoS conversation is not to be confused with feeling excluded or unwanted from the community.  Although I hear some people did/do feel that way, and to you all who felt/feel excluded I am deeply sorry for any part I may have played towards your feeling excluded from our mathematical family. This family thrives on new additions. New voices. New opinions. We need you in our family, our community, our conversations, and our classrooms.

Twitter is a scary medium to put yourself out there, and its even scarier when you don’t really know #InRealLife the people you’re talking to. But those same aspects that make Twitter scary–talking to those strangers on the internet–is what can make it the best professional development opportunity. Those strangers are online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to give you feedback if/when you ask for it.

Some things I learned as I moved from lurker to participant that might help people who are still proudly lurking. No rush. Move at your own pace. But here’s some things I discovered along the way that might help with the transition:

  • When in doubt. Comment on cute puppies, cats, tiny humans, or what ever else floats your boat. I remember this thread like it was yesterday, it was the first time Meg and I talked about dogs! Now, we chat about our fur babies at least once a week. Yes, there is a hashtag #DogsOfMTBoS!:Screen Shot 2017-08-01 at 7.56.50 PM  Screen Shot 2017-08-01 at 7.56.59 PM
  • Talk about something math-related that may have NOTHING to do with teaching. @cheesemonkeySF, @anniekperkins, and @veganmathbeagle  are always posting about really, REALLY awesome math art. I’m currently memorized by the Celtic knot designs they are doing right now. If I wasn’t so into my 10:30pm at the latest bedtime, I would have taken more time at #TMC17 to learn how to draw them. Maybe next year!
  • Just adding #MTBoS or #iTeachMath(s) on the end of a tweet isn’t (always) enough to get feedback. There is no #MTBoS high council who patrol the internet moderating comments. If you are looking for specific feedback, tag specific people. When I needed algebra 2 help, I looked to the #Alg2Chat and found Julie ( @jreulbach, and Meg (@mathymeg07) I tagged them when I had a specific question, and I heard back. Find those who teach your content and direct questions their way. You will hear back, and if you don’t, tweet me. I’ve taught everything from Algebra 1 to AP Calc. I’ll do my best to help.
    • Chats to look into:
      • #MTBos and #iTeachMaths, obviously.
      • #GeomChat
      • #Alg1Chat
      • #Alg2Chat
      • #PreCalChat
      • #msmathchat
  • Set goals and make them public. I told Meg I’d be at TMC17. And it happened!

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So with that, come on and tweet with us. Use what ever hashtag you like. I’m going to stick with #MTBoS because to me it means family of nerdy math people who happen to use the mediums of Twitter and Blogging to hold us over until we can meet up, once a year, for nerdy game nights and talking mathematics until WAY past our bedtimes.


M&M Lab

Advanced Functions and Modeling is an alternative to PreCal course. And this year I choose to move the Descriptive Stats unit from the very first unit in August to the first unit of the second semester in January. Our Stats unit is very simplistic as it is meant to be an introduction of sorts. Tt contains the same content from CCM1: Measures of center, calculating 5-number summaries and outliers, creating histograms and box plots. We choose to have the unit focus on arguing with data rather than purely analyzing data.

Arguing with data, for the purposes of the class is when students are given data, a side-by-side box plot, or multiple histograms on the same scale and then they need to:

  • Make a claim–students need take a stance for the data given. We modeled these statements to reflect the thesis statement construction from their US History class (which most students are in).
  • Provide three supporting statements for the claim. Each statement should be data driven and assist your claim.

The Lab was inspired stolen from an image I found on Twitter. I can’t find the source, most likely someone in #MTBoS.


And I figured this was a lab that could be easily recreated for my students. I, with the help of my loving husband, created “Mystery Morsel” packs. We created packs made from large index cards that we put 5 M&Ms in and sealed. We made 7 packs for each type of M&M.

Students were tasked with identifying the “Mystery Morsels” by using their weights. Each group was given a control baggie of M&Ms to come up with a baseline for each type. They shared their data on the board for weights of their M&Ms and then proceeded to weigh the “Mystery Morsels”:

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Was it a perfect lab? Heck no. I think it was far too easy and there are many things I want to change for next year. Several kids noted that “it was obvious” which M&M goes to which pack because the weights are varied. One student mentioned that it would be “evil if Mrs. White hid skittles in here somewhere. I bet they weigh about the same as the plain ones.”

Which got me to thinking…skittles…yes. And Reese’s Pieces. And maybe one random packet that has 6 M&Ms instead of 5.

My rational for this “trickery” is to have some of the box plots overlap in the range of the data. So students actually have to use their knowledge of measures of center/variability to rationalize their decisions for which of the “Mystery Morsels” belong to which M&Ms and which are “other” candies.


Lab handout

New Year, New Routines

I teach at a residential high school for gifted young artists. They leave their homes, their former high schools, and their friends and travel to Winston-Salem NC where we have the pleasure of teaching some of the most talented young dancers, musicians, vocalists, drama performers, and visual artists from all around North Carolina and the United States. In addition to a full academic work load (the usual math, science, history, and English classes from any other high school) my students have the added responsibility of taking a rigorous college-level art classes alongside their peers from the University and Graduate programs here on campus. They have a lot on their plate.

This year I teach standard Algebra 2, Advanced Functions and Modeling (an alternative to PreCalculus for students not looking to go onto AP Calculus), and this year I have a PreCalculus (but won’t next year). Last year I only had Algebra 2 and AFM, and I noticed a hesitation among my students to put them selves out there mathematically. The classes I teach tend to have the more mathematically fearful students in them: the 11th and 12th graders in Algebra 2, students with lower math averages in previous classes, and a fair amount of mathematical baggage from their previous high schools. Every year I have them write a math bio. An account of what they remember liking/disliking in their math career, what they are amazing at, what scares them, what they are most concerned about with math this year. It gives me a lot of insight into the teenage minds:

“I have always been bad at math and have never felt like a teacher really cared enough to explain it to me.”

” Math has never made sense to me.”

So I have a lot of mathematical damage to repair. I have two goals for myself this year in my classes, in order:

  1. To increase students engagement in and willingness to try mathematical tasks.
  2. To teach the material in a way that students retain the information.

Goal 1: to increase student engagement in and willingness to try mathematical tasks.

So, to work towards this goal I introduced the “non math” warm up. Thanks to the #MTBoS tweeps I have stolen borrowed some great warm ups with a focus on critical thinking, math talk, and problem solving.

  • Every Friday we play Set.Today's Daily Set 9/11/15 A mathematical card game available online (I take a screen shot) in which you need to identify a set of 3 cards in which the characteristics of the shapes are either all the same or all different. Today the first two sets my first period AFM found were the grey set (all the same color, all different numbers, all the same shading, all the same shape) followed by the yellow set (all the same color and number, different shadings and shape). It took 4 weeks for them to 100% get the hang of it, but I love the culture it is forming in the room. Kids are talking to each other before putting their guesses out there for the whole class to critique. We are having constructive criticism of “wrong” sets and helping their peers adjust a set selection to then have a “correct” response. Its also a lot of fun to see them enjoying my favorite nerdy math game!
  • Which One Doesn’t Belong? WODB?I had the pleasure of meeting Mary Bourassa this summer at Anja S Greer Math Conference up in Exeter, New Hampshire. I fell in love with the simplicity of the task and the multiple entry points for students. We are starting off the year with the shapes and numbers categories and will move into the function options as we move through the year. My favorite WODB is to the right. In my lower level classes students found differences with the shapes of the letters, “K is the only pointy line segment one” or “P is the only one without a lower half.” Not ground breaking, but still awesome. Then my upper level PreCal students took the floor with “K is the only one that doesn’t end in a eee sound. Pee, Bee, Dee, Kay.” Oh man, now we’re getting deep. “B is the only even numbered letter. Like if you assign the letters numbers 1-26, K is 15, P is 23, B is 2, and D is 5.” I had a huge grin on my face for the rest of the period because I didn’t even go that deep with the warm up when I was playing along. I love it!
  • Because I teach a students with very strong passions and opinions (which I adore) they have the  most fun/arguing potential with Would You Rather… A picture prompt that has students building an argument (mathematical or not) for why they would prefer to do option A over option B. We have started the year out with allowing for non-math answers like “80 bars of soap would fit in my book bag but 30 towels totally would not.” But we will move into the more mathematically based opinions as we progress through the year.
  • Then I also pick a random problem from 1001 Problems to work on visual problem solving. Hole PunchOut favorite from the year has been the Hole Punch Problem. If you make the indicated blue folds, then use a one hole punch on the indicated black dot, what will the unfolded paper hole pattern look like. This was a great experience for my kids visualizing the number of layers in the paper underneath the hole punch. Some even got out scrap paper and were poking holes in it with their pencil.

Goal 2: To teach the material in a way that students retain the information.

I wish I could say I have found the silver bullet for this problem, but I’m typing this blog while one of my classes takes a test, and I can tell by facial expressions alone we’re not there yet. Either way–the things I have changed this year:

  • I will always, ALWAYS, post answers to HW assignments the night they are due on Blackboard with the understanding that students will check HW answers prior to arriving in class (I never give more than 5-10 problems) so that we can spend a few minutes post-warm-up to fix any issues/concerns they have. My hope is that this allows students to catch “silly” mistakes and we can spend time focusing on the real underlying issues/tricky problems from the night.
  • In Algebra 2 I am testing out a hybrid of Guided Notes, a system I have used for most of my teaching career as I find that it allows for more time to work example problems if the students aren’t writing so much, with Interactive Notes. I have been following Sarah Hagan‘s blog and twitter (@mathequalslove) for a few years and have been meaning to try her interactive notebook idea but never had the motivation until this year. The students so far seem to enjoy them, but we are still working on convincing students to use their notes as a primary resource for helping them through an in class assignment–rather than asking me first. It is a process, so I will keep you all updated. This is definitely my work in progress project for the year. Learning as I go.
  • Increase the number of labs/hands on activities that I do in each unit. I am making time for 2 labs per unit so that students can connect what we are learning with applications and trying to work in more manipulative activities.