I spent some time on a conference call today as part of my duties as VP of math for MCTM. On the line were (mostly) elementary teachers and coaches. The fundamental problem at hand was beautifully stated by a participant:
If we want to grow wonderful, fabulous teachers, we have to make it easy for them to stay connected.
As the conversation proceeded, I found myself asking How does having organizations that are fixed in their physical location make sense in fostering these connections?
Several teachers described the kinds of connections and resources they would like to have access to, but that they do not (and hence why they are reaching out to MCTM and to the state department of education). These include (in no particular order):
- Both occasional synchronous and ongoing asynchronous communication among teachers and policy and content experts;
- Concrete resources for helping teachers move from a textbook-focused classroom to a standards-based classroom (especially a Minnesota standards-based classroom; we are not a Common Core state);
- A place to ask about something that happened in the classroom today and to get help with what to do tomorrow as a result;
- A way of promoting and organizing useful resources and filtering out the junk;
- A place to have longer conversations about bigger issues such as children’s long-term development of place value concepts or current research and curricular innovations relating to subtraction; and
- Video of classrooms in action—there seems to be a real hunger for seeing over reading classroom scenarios.
As I listened and thought about my own teaching, I became less and less convinced that a centralized resource is the answer to these needs. Indeed, the only need related to our particular state is number 2 above. But all of those other needs (and many of the general ideas underlying number 2) can be met by folks who have never set foot in our state.
I have built my own version of this support system online. Here’s how:
Blogs. Writing my own and reading those of others has generated tons of useful ideas for every aspect of my work. Just today, I took something from Chris Hunter’s blog to use with my College Algebra students, and I adapted Fawn Nguyen’s Google Form for my standards-based grading reassessment in all of my courses.
Twitter. Pretty much everyone whose blog I regularly read I also follow on Twitter. The reverse is not true, so Twitter expands my network. In the past week, I put out a general request with organizing my students’ reassessment requests and got reminded of Fawn’s system.
Also I have had several back-and-forth conversations with teachers on a range of topics. For example, I replied to the following…
Twitter facilitates a lovely combination of asynchronous resource-hunting and synchronous problem-solving. It can also be a tremendous time sink, so time management skills are essential.
Email. Back to asynchronous communication. Email for me remains a medium for having extended private conversations. I am not a fan of listservs, mailing lists or email conversations that attempt to involve more than about three people.
Experience. Having spent a couple of years in this space, I have developed a working knowledge of what’s available. I know who to ask about what’s happening at middle school, who to ask/read/recommend on assessment issues. I know who will give me a new perspective on social media use. I know who to talk to for questions about college teaching.
All of this reinforces the idea-for me-that the role MCTM could play in meeting this request from our members isn’t so much creating a space for interaction, as it could be facilitating teachers’ entry into this much larger space that already exists.
I have no idea what that would look like either, though.
How say, math-o-blog-o-Twitter-sphere?