Sunday, October 19, 2014

An Open Comment Thread

Mostly for me, but feel free to jump in.


  1. This school year has been a really good one for me so far. The big change has been that I've been spending less time making instructional materials ("designing" or "prepping") and a lot more time getting ready for making the lesson work ("planning"). This has been great for my kids.

    This has been trickling down into my out-of-school work as well. A lot of my posts and tweets in the past were about math and its presentation to students. I'd offer lesson sequences, activity ideas, etc. Lately? Not so much.

    1. Sour-puss. Your lesson ideas never really got used by anyone. No wonder you were eager to shift.

    2. Well, fair enough. I'm sure that's part of it, somewhere in there.

      But (a) I think that there's more to it than just self-interest and (b) even if it were self-interest that would be OK too.

      Meaning, I think that it just makes sense to rely on other's curricular materials if you can. Especially if they've been carefully tested and improved. There's always something wrong with my curricular materials when I make them myself -- a typo, confusing wording, a distraction from my actual learning goals. This isn't because I suck at curricular design, I think it's because curricular design is hard.

      Truth be told, I look at most of the stuff that gets shared by teachers on the internet and I'm not so impressed. Just as I wasn't really impressed by my own work.

      So that's nudged me towards thinking about other aspects of teaching: feedback, anticipating, really hearing my kids' thinking, making sure my thinking about teaching is developing.

      All this is good, but it feels like I don't really have an audience for that on the blog or on the twitter.

    3. Yeah. But how? And will there be an audience for that?

      Here's my fear: that my interests are slowly moving away from what gets shared and rewarded in the online circles where I wander.

      (I actually think that my readership stats bear this out.)

      There's also the kid that's coming in January that's part of all this in my head...

    4. Woa! A kid? Mazal Tov! B'Shaah Tova! Knock on wood etc! Everyone doing well?

    5. Yeah, everyone's thankfully doing great!

      It's scary, because I feel like something is ending. I started writing this blog straight out of college and in my first year of teaching, back in 2010. My interests are changing, and from what I hear having a kid is going to change me even more dramatically.

      I'm sort of enamored by the idea that people don't really persist through time in any meaningful sense. The "you" that you are in 2010 is just a relation of the 2014 "you." The seems between past-me and present-me are showing a bit.

      I think I need to do something different, but I'm not exactly sure what. I'm not feeling restless, teaching-wise, but I am feeling a bit restless in my out-of-school work.

  2. I'm interested in a lot of things right now. That's always been part of my problem -- focusing up and actually working deeply on just a few ideas.

    I'm still working on complex numbers. That's a curricular design problem. I want to really put something together that'd be nice and usable that puts together a lot of the ideas that I've written about here. I'm working on this with Max Ray, presenting on it this Spring.

    I'm still interested in teacher development, primarily my own. I want to know how a teacher learns, and how I can direct my own learning in a deeper way.

    Recently, I've also gotten interested in the way that we write about math ed. I'm pretty obsessed with the idea that the bar could be raised significantly on our writing about teaching math. I think it'll be harder to write better, though.

    I find it so hard to convince anyone of anything that I believe about teaching math -- about the value of informal geometry proof, about the uselessness of decontextualized logic proofs, about the value of written feedback, about the existence of "mathematical bias" as an important category for thinking about student work.

    1. Yeah not exactly a mystery of the universe.

      1. I cite research, but what reason does anyone have to believe that I'm reading the research correctly?
      2. Also, look at that list of issues. What a mess!
      3. Finally, maybe throwing blog posts out into the vacuum isn't the best way to make a case for an idea. Just maybe.

    2. How do you know you're not convincing anybody of what you believe? Many of your posts leave something to think about - they are not comprehensive, convincing cases. But we know that's a better way to present a topic anyway, right? I'll read a post and it'll simmer in my mind, but by the time I'm done digesting it, I don't always make it back to the post to comment. (Time, time, where's the time.)

    3. That's a fair point. I guess I don't really have any clue.

  3. The big question is: what sort of a career can I imagine having?

    1. teach 4ever
    2. teach for a while and then leave to go to grad school (is that even financially possible when you have a kid?)
    3. teach and get on a pd circuit
    4. teach and write about teaching

    I think 4 is my current "best bet," but that means I need to start taking my writing about teaching a bit more seriously.

    1. No. The big question is when you're going to get over yourself.

    2. No. The big question is when you're going to get over yourself.

      Maybe when I become a dad?

  4. A quick note about race: there's no real mystery about how to diversify the MTBoS or TMC. You need to seek out teachers of color and invite them to join your circles.

    This can be done bluntly or subtlety, depending on what the situation calls for. But if you're interested in twitter being more diverse, then go actually search for teachers of color to follow and then follow and chat and RT them and such.

    It bugs me that people treat this like it's some grand puzzle to be cracked. It's just hard work.

  5. Did I miss the part where you said you were about to be a dad? Congrats if so!

    What's wrong with teaching and writing about teaching?

    1. Thanks for the congrats! January seems both impossibly far away and very close.

      I think you're right that there's nothing wrong with teaching and writing about teaching. I think I'd like that a lot, as a career.

  6. I've been swamped; sorry for not getting back sooner. That's wonderful. I'm very happy for you. Mazel tov.

    Isn't that what you're doing right now? Writing and teaching? It's certainly how I describe my life.

    1. Thanks! And it's kind for you to reply at all.

      I think it would be fun to develop longer arguments in books or write for larger audiences in publications. I think it would be fun to have a bit of institutional prestige too so that my arguments might be given a bit more credibility.

      In short: I have some ambitions to write for a wider audience in longer forms.

      There aren't really any teachers who currently do this whose writing I really look up to, though. Maybe I just haven't found them yet?

  7. Hi Michael,
    A quick note to say how much I'm enjoying your blog. It's probably not useful feedback (smile), but I love the way you write about teaching. I've shared some of your posts with colleagues and they're helping us to think about the case studies we're developing. What do I like? The honesty, the balance between detail and conciseness, the examples of student work, that you advance an argument (and not just a teaching tip), the skepticism (loved your dialogue with the Skeptic in post 3 on feedback). It's definitely worthy of reaching a wider audience. What about adding classroom video? Commentaries from other teachers, researchers etc.? (I played around with both of these in a recent book -- I'm not sure it's garnered a larger readership than your blog.)
    Congratulations! and good luck with your impending fatherhood. I do hope that you manage to juggle it, teaching and writing...
    Warm regards,
    Adam (Lefstein)

    1. Thanks for saying all these nice things! It's always good to know that not everybody out there thinks I'm nuts.

      Looking forward to more interesting chats, and reading more of your work.