# Math Rocks Redux Part 1

This time last year, @reginarocks and I kicked off our inaugural Math Rocks cohort. We spent two awesome days of PD together with a group of 30 elementary teachers which you can read about here and here.

And this time this year, we kicked off our second Math Rocks cohort which you can read about in this very post!

For those who want to stick to the present and not go back into last year’s posts, Math Rocks is our district cohort for elementary teachers to grow as math teachers. Our two focus goals for the year are building relationships around mathematics and fostering curiosity about mathematics. The cohort meets for two full days in July followed up by 9 after school sessions, September through January, and a final half day session together in February. It’s intense, but so rewarding to get to work with teachers for such an extended amount of time!

I want to write a post about this year’s Math Rocks cohort to give you some insight into what stayed the same and what changed. Now that we’ve gone through this once, we knew there were some things we wanted to tweak. Without further ado…

One thing that stayed the same was kicking off Math Rocks with a little Estimation 180! The purpose behind this was twofold. First, we did it as a getting-to-know-you activity. Once everyone was ready, we had them mingle and make friends while answering questions like:

• What is an estimate that is too LOW?
• What is an estimate that is too HIGH?
• Where’s the math? and
• Which grade levels could do this activity?

Second, throughout day 1 we snuck in a couple of activities like Estimation 180 that were created by members of the Math Twitter Blog-o-Sphere (#MTBoS for short). Later in the day we introduced the cohort to the MTBoS, and it’s nice to be able to say, “Oh by the way, remember those Estimation 180 and Which One Doesn’t Belong? activities we did? Those are created by members of this community we’re introducing you to. Isn’t that awesome?!”

Last year we did a community circle after the Estimation 180 activity, but I scrapped it this year in order to streamline our day and add time for the biggest change to day 1, which I’ll talk about in a bit. Instead, we moved right into the ShadowCon15 talks from Tracy Zager and Kristin Gray that serve the purpose of setting up our two Math Rocks goals.

Just like last year, we had the participants reflect before Tracy’s video. They had to create three images that symbolized what math was like to them as a student. It’s fascinating (and concerning) to see how many images involve computation facts practice of some sort:

Even more fascinating (and sadly disturbing) was listening to participants’ horror stories about fact practice as a child. One person talked about the teacher hitting students on the back of the hand for getting problems wrong on timed tests. Another one said the teacher had everyone in class hiss at students who got problems wrong. Hiss! Can you believe that?!

We only made a slight change to this portion of the day. Last year we prefaced each video with a description we got from the ShadowCon site. This year I let the talks speak for themselves. It seemed more powerful to let Tracy and Kristin build their own arguments without priming the pump so much.

I mentioned earlier we left out the community circle in the morning to make room for the biggest change to day 1. Let me tell you about that. Introducing goal #2 leads us into one of the biggest components of Math Rocks, joining Twitter and creating a blog. In order to build relationships and foster curiosity, I want my teachers to experience being members of the MTBoS during their time in Math Rocks.

Last year I gave directions here and here on our Math Rocks blog. I shared the links to those two blog posts and set them loose to get started. To say we ran into problems is a vast understatement. I severely underestimated the support needed to get 30 teachers with widely varying comfort levels with technology connected to Twitter and blogging. No offense to them – they were great sports about it – but I definitely threw our first cohort in the deep end and I’m lucky (and thankful!) they all came back for day 2.

This year I slowed things down quite a bit, and together we walked through the process of creating a Twitter account and a blog. I ended up spending about an hour and fifteen minutes on each part. That’s how much I learned from last year’s experience! Slow and steady wins this race. For those who were comfortable getting started on their own, I gave them their tasks up front here and here so they didn’t have to sit and wait for the rest of us.

Oh, that reminds me of another behind-the-scenes change this year. Instead of using a blog to share missions, I decided to try Google Classroom. I made separate assignments of creating a Twitter account and creating a blog, and the documents I linked in the previous paragraph were linked to those assignments. I haven’t done much else with Google classroom yet, so I’m not sure if it’s going to be a better choice or not, but so far it’s working out okay.

Doing all of that pretty much took up the rest of day 1, with the exception of a little Which One Doesn’t Belong? to give us a break between introducing Twitter and blogging.

All in all, I’m happy we were able to keep so much of day 1 intact. I feel like the structure of it does a nice job of establishing our goals for the year and I’m happy I was able to find a way to get everyone connected to Twitter and blogging in a less stressful way.

Day 2, on the other hand, is completely different from last year, and I look forward to writing about that in my next post.

# Go Big or Go Home: Math Rocks Day 2

This has been a busy week, but I can finally sit down to write about day 2 of our Math Rocks class. (In case you missed the post about day 1, here it is.)

One thing that has kept me busy is reading and responding to all of the blog posts that our group has generated this week. Here are a few you should check out if you have a few minutes:

• Leilani wrote about how one simple sentence led to rich problem solving and discussion last year.
• Kari shared a story that sounds like it’s straight out of a teacher nightmare, but it really happened to her!
• Carrie’s post is short and sweet, but I love that she chose to write about Counting Circles in her very first blog post.
• Brittany shared an honest and touching reflection of an experience in Math Rocks this week.

I’m so impressed by the stories, reflections, and ideas already being shared. It makes me so excited to see what else we have in store this year!

We started Day 2 with some math. This is actually a problem we posed at the end of Day 1, but we never had time to discuss it because setting up everyone’s WordPress and Twitter accounts took quite a while!

This problem actually came from Steve Leinwand’s keynote at Twitter Math Camp 2014. The numbers involved are small, but I chose this problem because the relational thinking involved would likely stretch many of the educators in our group. This is the problem Brittany refers to in her blog post.

After giving everyone 5-10 minutes to solve the problem, I had them go around their tables to share their current thinking. I let them know before they started working that it was okay if they hadn’t finished solved the problem yet. The purpose of the discussion was to give them a chance to share either their solution *or* their current thinking about the problem. Both are perfectly acceptable. I wanted to model this specifically because it’s a teaching move I would like for them to try out in their classrooms. I got the idea from this Teaching Channel video. You’re welcome to watch the whole thing – it’s about introducing fraction multiplication – or you can skip to the 3:30 mark.

After sharing, most everyone was ready to jump into creating a solution together. I had them share their agreed upon solution on a blank piece of paper. Then they had to take a picture of it and tweet it out to our hashtag for the course, #rrmathrocks. As they worked, I walked around and talked to them about how their solution had to be convincing because anyone on Twitter would be able to see it, so the solution has to stand on its own.

I did this intentionally because after they tweeted out their work, I shared with them how they could do something similar in their classrooms by participating in the Global Math Task Twitter Exchange. Each week a class signs up to pose a problem to their grade level hashtag. Other classes from around the world solve the problem and tweet out their solutions. It can be very motivating to students because you’ve provided them a global audience for talking about and doing math. I wrote a post related to this a few weeks ago.

We didn’t talk about their solutions…yet. I have plans for them down the road.

After everyone tweeted out their solutions, we revisited our norms:

• Share and take turns
• Give each other time to think
• Be open minded
• Share far and wide
• Be respectful of each other
• Take risks

I’m especially proud of how much they’ve embraced being open minded and taking risks already.

We quickly moved on to reviewing first drafts of our new district common assessments. Our department has to write them, but we try to involve teachers as much as possible in the review process in order to get feedback and to be as transparent as possible. We want to assure teachers our goal is not to trick them or their students.

Since we had a group of educators from grades K-5, and our assessments are for grades 3-5, we paired up the primary teachers with intermediate teachers. The intermediate teachers were responsible for ensuring the primary teachers understood the standard correlated with each question.

Some wonderful discussions ensued. I talked to a few teachers about a question that they felt was one step too difficult for the students. They convinced me to make a change to the question so that it will be clearer from students’ work and answers whether students can truly do what the correlated standard says they should be able to do. Another group had questions about multiplication algorithms. We had a great conversation about the distributive property and the area model, and how these two things can support students up into middle and high school.

After they were done reviewing assessment items, we came back together to discuss ambitious math instruction. I love the phrase “ambitious math instruction.” I didn’t coin it of course. This came from Teacher Education By Design, a project out of the College of Education at the University of Washington. It’s one of my favorite places on the internet.

You should probably check out their page on ambitious math instruction for yourself, but here’s a snippet:

Developing a vision of ambitious teaching and putting it into practice is complex work. The instructional activities, tools, and resources offered by this project are designed to support teachers to learn about and take up practices of ambitious teaching and engage children in rich mathematics. The routine structure of the activities bounds the range of complexity teachers might encounter while creating space for them to learn about the principles, practices, and mathematics knowledge needed for teaching while engaging in the practice of teaching.

What I really like about this is the use of routine activities as a way to allow teachers to try out new ideas and practices within clear boundaries. They go on to share their core practices of ambitious teaching in mathematics:

In Texas we have mathematical process standards that tell us what students should be doing to acquire and demonstrate understanding of mathematics. Now I have a set of practices I can share of what teachers can do to support their students in learning and using these processes.

We gave each table one of the core practices and asked them to create a semi-Frayer model that showed why the practice is important, example(s) of the practice, non-example(s) of the practice, and an illustration of the practice. Again, we had them take a quick photo and tweet them out to #rrmathrocks. This time we did pull their tweets up on the big screen and use them to talk through each practice.

Teacher Education By Design currently has 5 instructional activities on their site with more to come. Regina and I chose to share two of them – Quick Images and Choral Counting. Many of our teachers are already familiar with Quick Images, which is exactly what I wanted. Since they are already familiar with the routine, it meant they could focus on looking for the core practices in the videos we watched rather than trying to balance that with learning a new classroom routine. Choral counting was new for many of them, so we shared that activity second.

Before getting into either routine, I wanted to stop and think a bit about number sense. We did the Number Sense Trajectory Cut-N-Sort from Graham Fletcher.

As expected, there was a lot of interesting conversation about which concepts come first and why. I had wanted them to make posters and draw a quick sketch next to each concept, but we were pressed for time so I just had them do the matching and ordering. When they were done, I handed out the complete trajectory so they could self-check and discuss with the other members of their group. Because we ended up going through this activity more quickly than I had planned, I’m going to look for other ways to revisit the components of number sense at a later date. It’s a really rich topic, and I want to ensure our group has a good grasp of all it entails.

We finally went into the Quick Images activity. Regina modeled the activity with the group and did a little debrief before we watched two videos of Quick Images in action in a Kinder and 5th grade classroom. I think this routine is often considered a primary grades activity, so I purposefully showed both ends of the elementary spectrum to give them an idea of how robust it really is. When we discussed the videos, we specifically asked for examples of the core practices in action, and we talked about what math concepts can be explored through this activity.

I had wanted to end this activity by having everyone plan a sequence of 2-3 Quick Images that they could do in their classrooms at the start of school, but we were still trying to make up for some lost time. I’m sad that it didn’t happen because I wanted them to experience what it’s like to think through the planning of this activity. However, since this wasn’t a brand new activity for most of them, I felt like it was okay to let that go for now. Maybe we’ll revisit it in the future.

We then moved into Choral Counting. I led a count with them where we started at 80 and counted by 2s all the way up to 132. In the middle of the count, I stopped everyone and asked what the next number would be, and I asked how the person knew. In our debrief afterward, I admitted that I wasn’t intentional enough about where I chose to stop. I asked the group where I should have stopped, and they agreed that 98 or 100 would have been a better place to stop because students often have difficulty counting across landmarks.

I also asked whether we would say 216 if we continued the count. One person said yes, because all of the numbers are even and so is 216. I did my best to act like the surprised teacher: “Whoa! You just said all of these numbers are even. How in the world could you make that claim so quickly? There are 27 numbers up here!” She shared that the ones digit in each column was an even number. I told them it’s important to keep an ear out for grand claims like this. It’s easy to just accept the statement that all of these numbers are even, but to the untrained elementary school eye, that is not necessarily obvious nor do they necessarily understand why or how it’s true.

We watched a video of a 3rd grade class doing this activity, and again we debriefed with a focus on the core practices. I was so impressed with how intently they watched all the videos and all of the teacher moves they noticed. From conversations I had during the rest of the day, it sounds like some of them are inspired to be more intentional in their planning and carrying out of these types of activities.

Now that we had made up for lost time, I was able to have them practice recording some counts. One of the powerful pieces of choral counting is that how the count is recorded impacts the patterns students notice and the conversation that ensues. I had each person choose a count appropriate for their grade level and record it three different ways. This reinforced what some of them already noticed before about how intentional planning can make these activities that much more powerful.

At this point we were starting to run out of time, so all we were able to do with the remaining time is introduce the book Intentional Talk. We’re not going to read the whole book during this course. It offers so much, but I’d rather be selective and practice a few key strategies out of the book. We’re going to start with chapters 1 and 2 and add another one down the road if time permits. I really want to ensure everyone has the chance to process and practice the concepts from chapter 2 before trying to add more to their plate. If you’re wondering why, check out these posts I wrote about the first two chapters of Intentional Talk here and here.

After reading the first few pages of chapter 1, everyone tweeted out a key point that stood out to them.

We wrapped up our intense and amazing two days of learning by telling them about Math Rocks Mission #3. The gist of it is that they have to set goals for themselves and their students. They also have to anticipate the obstacles that might get in the way of meeting their goals. I’ve listed all of the Math Rocks blogs on the sidebar of the Math Rocks site. If you get a chance, you should take a look at their goal-setting posts. I’ve enjoyed reading about how excited they are for the upcoming school year as well as their thoughtfulness regarding their goals and potential obstacles. Not everyone has written yet, so you might wait until Tuesday which is their soft deadline because that’s when I launch Mission #4! We’ll be launching a mission per week up until school starts.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading about our first two days together! It truly has been a privilege to spend 12 hours with this talented group of educators. I can’t believe this is just the beginning. We have 9 after-school sessions together throughout the school year and one half day session to wrap everything up in February. I’m looking forward to it!

# Another Blog Post About Fraction Division

Person 1 mentioned on Twitter tonight that there aren’t enough blog posts out there about fraction division.

Person 2 recommended using rectangles to model fraction division.

I decided to help Person 1 using Person 2’s suggestion. Though the meat of this post is in this PDF I made and not in the blog post itself:

Fraction Division (1/29/2015 Stacked all fractions and made a cover page.)

Good enough, I say. I made a lot of examples fairly quickly, so I apologize if there are some errors here and there. Let me know and I can easily fix them and re-post the PDF.

And now there are n + 1 posts on fraction division on the internet. Woot!

# Kickoff! #ElemMathChat

Tonight we kicked off a new weekly Twitter chat, #ElemMathChat. Hooray! As the name implies, the chat is designed for elementary school folks to talk about math.

I’ve been so excited to get this chat started! For the past two years, I’ve been a member of the MathTwitterBlogoSphere whose membership is primarily composed of middle and high school teachers. There are a few of us elementary-minded folks. We have appreciated all of the interactions we’ve had with the MTBoS. However, after meeting up at this year’s Twitter Math Camp, we decided our mission this year is to grow the elementary-side of the MTBoS.

And so it begins.

Tonight’s chat was a huge success! We had a great turnout with educators from around the US and Canada. (Thanks for catching my mistake @ChrisHunter36!) Everyone seemed excited about having a forum to discuss elementary math specifically. One person even commented that she was happy to have a place where she could be taken seriously. She said she’s tired of being considered “cute” for teaching first grade.

Our topic for the first chat was balancing problem solving with teaching/covering math skills. If you want to catch up on the conversation, you can check out the Storify put together by @davidwees. While the overall conversation was energetic and interesting, I was left a tiny bit disappointed.

I think it’s because I was the one who suggested this topic. Balancing problem solving and covering math skills is something I have struggled with myself as a teacher, and now as a district curriculum specialist, I am hearing from numerous teachers who are struggling to find the same balance themselves. So going in, I had some clear ideas of what I wanted to talk about and get out of the discussion.

The first question was “How do you define problem solving in the elementary math class?” This generated some interesting discussion. Some key points that rose to the surface for me were that problem solving involves thinking critically, collaborating, and using math as a tool. I especially like the “math as a tool” metaphor because it gives meaning to why we’re learning it in the first place. I think it’s often an implied message, but one educators need to try to make more explicit. I also liked how people described problem solving as a time to make kids get out of their comfort zones and make their brains sweat. I love the image that conjures in my mind.

The interesting thing that came out of this first question is that everyone seems to have different ideas about what problem solving is. Some people talked about it in a way that sounded like solving word problems, whereas others referred to rich and engaging tasks that focus more on the process than the endpoint. This is one area where Twitter chats can frustrate me. The conversation is happening so fast with so many people talking simultaneously that it can be challenging to pull the threads together into a coherent whole.

Maybe that’s what I need to learn how to do as a moderator. Instead of following my script of questions, I could have stopped and made question 2 be “So I’ve heard problem solving described as ___, ___, ___, and ___. What is one definition we can all agree on?” The conversation over the rest of the hour felt weaker because we didn’t necessarily have an agreed-upon definition to base our discussion on.

Question 2 also had some problems: “How do you define math skills?” This is where I had a clear idea of what I meant, but the majority of the group was on a different wavelength. Since we had just talked about problem solving, everyone seemed to think that I meant the Standards for Mathematical Practice or general thinking skills that are needed to solve problems. What I really meant, and I did try to clarify, are the nuts and bolts skills that teachers need to teach their kids: adding and subtracting whole numbers within 1,000, multiplying fractions with whole numbers, interpreting dot plots, and measuring angles, to name a few.

Here’s an example to illustrate the tension I was thinking about when suggesting this week’s topic. Learning a skill like long division takes time and effort. It is a very structured thing to do, but until students understand it, they are prone to making many errors. Can I do a few problem solving activities and have my kids somehow come away from the experiences as masters of long division?

You may be thinking right now, “But kids don’t actually have to know long division in order to solve problems. They just need a strategy that makes sense to them.”

I agree with you. However, in Texas and in Common Core, the standards do explicitly state that students learn to divide using the standard algorithm. So like it or not, it’s a skill that students are expected to learn.

Here’s where the tension comes in. Long division is just one skill. There are numerous other skills students are also expected to master in any given grade. How do you ensure the nuts and bolts mastery while at the same time providing ample opportunity for the types of activities that require critical thinking, collaboration, and brain sweating?

And please don’t take any of this the wrong way; I don’t fault anyone in the chat for not providing me a satisfying answer. To be honest, I don’t think a one hour Twitter chat is going to be the place to find concrete answers to big questions like this. It doesn’t mean I don’t want answers (hence the tiny bit of disappointment I felt), but I have learned over the past two years what Twitter can and can’t do.

What it can do is bring together like-minded people to fuel conversations and build relationships. The more I connect with people on Twitter, the more I get to know them. I can start chatting with them outside of our weekly chats. Perhaps I ask for help with a problem I’m having, or perhaps we set up a Google Hangout to have an actual conversation about a particular issue (good-bye 140 character limit!), or maybe we even collaborate on a proposal for a national conference.

Valuable professional relationships can grow from short, weekly conversations. It’s why I’m still here two years later, and it’s why I’m excited to get this specific chat launched. I’m eager to meet like-minded elementary folks and start forging some new professional relationships.

# Exploring MTBoS: Mission #2

With blogging, I am free to talk. I can say a lot or a little, though I mostly say a lot. With Twitter, I feel like I’m writing snippets of thought without much context. Some people love the challenge of limiting their messages to 140 characters. Some think that this forces us to get to the essence of our message and cut out all the bullshit.

It generally frustrates me because I feel like I’m not being understood or I’m just not speaking clearly. But like it or not, I still read my feed every day and tweet to various folks. I may not love everything about Twitter, but I find it valuable enough.

So what don’t I like? In addition to the character limit, there are a few other things that get under my skin. The first is the endless platitudes and affirmations. They drive me nuts. If they inspire your or make you feel better during a tough spot in your day, then I’m happy for you. They don’t do that for me. I wrote about this after my very first Twitter chat. I think part of the problem is that because of the character limit, we’re left with hollow messages filling up our feeds day in and day out. The solution is that I should probably weed my list of who I follow. I need to start removing folks who add noise, not content.

My other problem is attitude. This is another issue I wrote about previously, here and here. I can’t stand the attitude among some educators that all teachers should be in a Twitter PLN, and the implication that teachers who aren’t “connected” 24/7 are somehow terrible, uncaring teachers. Look, some people love teaching so much that they like to think and talk about it all the time. “Hi, my name is Brian, and I’m an eduholic.” It works for me, but I don’t begrudge those that want a life away from their classrooms. Heck, I even want time away sometimes, and I’m not going to feel guilty about that.

The thing is, neither of these issues really apply to #MTBoS. I’ve never felt like I’m having to read crap. Instead there are always lots of interesting discussions going on about teaching, students, and math. Just within the past 24 hours I talked about strategies for getting students to be better estimators, the reasons people leave teaching, and the need to be explicit in our meanings of terms like direct instruction. Those are extremely satisfying interactions, and it’s because of my connections through #MTBoS that I had them. If it weren’t for the folks I’ve connected with in #MTBoS, I probably would have ditched Twitter completely last winter. Thankfully that isn’t the case, and I appreciate this group more and more every day.

# Collaborating for fun…and profit?

I witnessed a heated exchanged on Twitter this morning that I want to address in more than 140 characters. Here’s the gist:

Twitterer1 (T1) posted a game to Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT). From what I could tell, the game was based on a game from someone else’s blog. Twitterer2 (T2) called her out on it, saying that she was making money off of the ideas of other bloggers and plagiarizing their work. She went on to say that the members of the mathtwitterblogosphere do not like TPT and do not support its use for this reason. T1 claimed she did give credit to the person who she was inspired by, but T2 said that’s not good enough. T1 also pointed out that there are other mathtwitterblogosphere members with TPT stores, so obviously some people are okay with it. Eventually T1 removed the offending game from her TPT store.

At first blush, this is a pretty straightforward issue – T1 took someone else’s work, made slight modifications, and attempted to sell it for profit. However, upon reflection, I find an interesting double standard here. In my eight years working in the classroom, I saw countless examples of copyright infringement perpetrated by fellow teachers.

• Copying entire commercial workbooks that someone else bought so the teacher has a copy in their files
• Making posters for their classroom using licensed characters such as Winnie The Pooh, Mickey Mouse, and Dora the Explorer
• Playing full movies and songs for which the teacher does not have express permission

And I get why teachers do these things. For one, teachers are not made of money. They aren’t copying workbooks because they don’t like spending their own money. They’re doing it because they can’t afford to buy an entire library of instructional materials. As it is, teachers often purchase many supplies and materials for their classroom using their own money, but there is a limit to how much they can spend. Schools sometimes have budgets to help teachers purchase supplies and resources, but not always. Second, teachers want to make their classrooms fun and engaging for their students. Using licensed characters is appealing to many students so teachers include them. I don’t personally care for it because students are bombarded with enough advertising to buy products associated with these characters, but that’s a whole different matter.

So basically, I’ve seen many teachers willingly cheat the system and steal from outside businesses. In their minds, I’m sure it feels out of necessity to provide the best learning for their students. However, it intrigues me that when a teacher takes an idea from another teacher and makes some money off of it, other teachers get up in arms about plagiarism. That’s not to say that T1 was right to do what she did, but it still strikes me as a double standard.

The other part that gets me about this is that teachers should know that ideas are recycled over and over and over. Games especially are rehashed throughout the years. I’ve seen 4th graders playing variations of games I played when I was a kid. When I told them I played that game when I was younger, I’ve had them reply I couldn’t have because so-and-so’s sister just made up the game. Look at foldables as another example of content that is invented over and over. Dinah Zike might be the queen of foldables, but do you think every idea is originally hers? Do you see her going after every teacher who shares foldables ideas for free or profit?

There is a definite gray area as teachers are planning lessons because for the many ideas they have, it is not feasible for them to check if there is a copyright on every single one. Also, is it the idea that is copyrighted, or just the materials that come with it? For example, I love the game Close to 100 that I learned from using TERC’s Math Investigations curriculum. I don’t have the materials anymore, but if I was to make a version for my class now, would I be breaking copyright law? Do I even know if TERC invented and copyrighted the game? Do I have time as a teacher to navigate all the legal waters just to play a game with my class? I definitely don’t have the time to do this for everything I do on a daily basis.

Okay, on to the other side of this issue. I don’t just have a problem with what T1 did. I also take issue with T2’s response. The way T2 characterized it, the mathtwitterblogosphere is some kind of entity that has specific members and specific rules. I don’t agree. From what I have gathered since starting blogging a few weeks ago, the mathtwitterblogosphere is an initiative, not an organization. A few people who have seen the value in blogging and twittering with fellow educators were inspired to encourage others to join them. And join them they did! There was a huge group of educators who started blogging in August, myself included. We did not join an organization, however. There was no application process so I could connect with these folks. There are no membership fees. There is no charter. The “members” of the mathtwitterblogosphere are a loose collection of educators who share a similar interest in talking about math education and sharing ideas with each other.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand why T2 was upset. There is something sketchy about freely sharing ideas with people only to find out some of the people you’re sharing with are taking your ideas and selling them for profit. There are some issues with integrity and professional ethics there. However, I don’t appreciate T2 speaking for the entire mathtwitterblogosphere since it is not a defined entity. I would have preferred T2 to keep it personal – I don’t like TPT. I don’t like sharing ideas so others can make a profit. Others are then welcome to add their voices if they agree. As T1 pointed out, there are other members who have TPT stores. Heck, I’m sure that is true throughout the twitter and blogging realms. I’ve seen numerous postings on #edchat advertising sales in TPT stores. I have no doubts that some of these people are reading blogs, getting ideas, and creating materials to put in their stores. Are they getting permission to use other people’s ideas? Probably not.

Honestly, I feel sad mostly for the teachers who are turning to TPT for their educational resources. From what I’ve seen in my short time blogging and twittering there are so many people willing to share ideas, lessons plans, and instructional materials for FREE. Perhaps finding and keeping up with blogs is too much work. There is something to be said for the convenience of going to one site, searching for a specific topic, and getting the materials you need right then and there. It might cost you a few bucks, but pretty much everything comes down to time vs. money. Some have more time, and some have more money.

In the end, I’m glad T1 took the materials out of her store. It did seem like the right thing to do. So what am I taking away from all this? The mathtwitterblogosphere is a collection of educators who want to stay connected and support each other. Unfortunately, our shared interest in education does not necessarily mean that everyone shares the exact same values. I’m okay with that. The rewards definitely outweigh the trade offs.

UPDATE: So shortly after posting this message I came across a news story about a teacher who has earned over \$1 million selling lesson plans on Teachers Pay Teachers. It raised an interesting ethical question for me. Is there a legal conflict in this situation? Who owns teacher lesson plans? If I was a teacher, and I made lesson plans for my students, I am doing that as a paid employee of a school district. If I then take those lesson plans and sell them elsewhere, do I have the right to do that? Do my lesson plans belong to me or my school district? Do I have the right to double dip?

The reason I ask is because working as an instructional designer for a curriculum company, I know my company would take serious issue with me taking lesson plans from my job and selling them on another site for my own profit Heck, they would probably even take issue if I made lesson plans on my free time and just sold those lesson plans. And I would understand their concern. If I made lesson plans on my free time that are worth selling, does that mean I am not giving my company my best effort during the work day? Am I holding out, so to speak, saving my best ideas for the work I do in my free time? It’s an interesting issue, and I wonder if there is an answer with regards to public school teachers. I’ll have to check around.

# Reflecting on my first live Twitter chat

Source: renjith krishnan via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tonight I took part in my first live Twitter chat (#1to1techat). The purpose, if you can’t tell from the hash tag, is to discuss 1:1 computing in the classroom. Since I work for a company that designs curriculum for use in 1:1 classrooms, it seemed right up my alley. Little did I know what a negative reaction I would have to the discussion.

Going in I had no idea what to expect. I went in hoping for a discussion, and I left thinking that Twitter is just not the most effective mode for talking about ideas in depth. 1:1 computing is a big topic with a lot of ideas embedded in it. Trying to capture significant thoughts in 140 characters (less after you write the hash tag and even less if you’re replying to one or more people) is frustrating to say the least. Instead of a discussion, where ideas are put forth, analyzed, and discussed, I felt like I was bombarded by platitudes about why computers in the classroom are good for kids.

“Equity for all!”

“Global citizens!”

“Level the playing field!”

“1:1 help kids find their passion!”

“Makes learning relevant!”

“Critical thinking!”

I rolled my eyes more than once while following the discussion. I felt like I was at a fan club meeting – a bunch of people getting together who love 1:1 and love to gush about it. Which is great in a way. These people are obviously the pioneers with regards to 1:1, and usually those folks are the most motivated to use new ideas and share them. I applaud their commitment to integrating technology into the classroom.

There was some good questioning for sure. For example, one person asked what other schools had learned NOT to do with regards to implementing 1:1. It’s great to learn from others’ mistakes, and several people chimed in on this question. Unfortunately the useful aspects of the conversation felt few and far between. Overall, despite lasting an hour and generating a couple hundred tweets, the discussion felt shallow.

It didn’t help that I ended up reacting in a way I didn’t expect. As someone who works for a company developing 1:1 curriculum materials, I’m obviously all for 1:1 solutions in the classroom. I do think that technology can augment what teachers and students are already doing so that they can do even more amazing things. However, in my time with my company I’ve seen another side to the issue: cost, specifically as it relates to the added value of the technology.

Up until now teachers have managed to teach the required curriculum standards without the use of computers. They also managed to teach critical thinking. They even managed to connect globally through pen pal programs. What is technology adding to the mix that justifies the expense of buying every child a tablet or netbook? This is a question I’ve heard frequently.

I know technology devices are coming down in price, but they still cost a lot to outfit all of the students in a grade, school, or district. There are even more costs beyond that. What if you want to buy a digital curriculum to go with it? Or pay for yearly subscriptions to various learning sites? Or buy apps for your students to use? Oh, don’t forget you might need to put some money into getting your district infrastructure up to speed to handle all of these news devices and tech support to handle malfunctioning/broken/stolen devices.

The news is full of stories of districts that are having budgetary problems. Some districts have even had to let go of teachers. If a district really wants to take on 1:1, they better have something to show their taxpayers to justify the expense. And guess what they hang their hopes on. Test scores. Basically, if you invest thousands upon thousands of dollars to buy a computer for each child, it’s reasonable to expect your test scores are going to soar through the roof, right?

Wrong. An iPad or netbook does not raise test scores. (By the way, I’m not even a proponent of judging 1:1 based on test scores. This is just a reality I’ve had to learn to deal with in my job.) Technology is just a tool. How that tool is used will determine the effect it has on student learning. A tool can be used appropriately or inappropriately. A tool can have different features depending on what model you buy. A tool can be…a tool, nothing more.

I realize I could go on and on, but I’ve said enough for tonight. I’ll have to revisit this topic in greater depth later. I’m glad I stopped to reflect on my first Twitter chat experience. I’ll probably take part in more, but I can’t say I have the best outlook on them so far. I want to believe that Twitter is great for PD because it allows you to connect with so many people, but if you can only speak in sound bites and platitudes, how high quality can it really be?