“Look at all my mitts! I’m a Mitt Boss!”
image: Pitch In For Baseball

It’s exciting (and a little weird) to subscribe to a group with no membership dues.

To say, “I’m a part of this group that has no mission statement and no list of members and no president,” is to place on one’s chest a badge written in another language, and be asked to translate that language whenever someone asks about the badge.

Another analogy:

My daughter has a book called Seven Blind Mice, which is featured in the video below:

The weirdest thing about trying to describe to people the #MTBoS (shorthand for Math Twitter Blogopshere) is — at best — a blind mouse giving its best description of what it knows. The wild-and-wooly world of Math Teacher Twitter is vast and far-reaching, and there is no Saturday mouse that can see, understand, and adequately describe the whole as the sum of its parts. No doubt, there are factions and viewpoints that I haven’t seen, being a white, male, blind mouse in Southern California.

So I’ll define it in terms that I understand, knowing that the other six [thousand] blind mice have their own perspectives.

I’m proud of my participation, and here’s how I pitch it in every workshop I give to teachers:

Now is a great time to be a math teacher. When I began my career over a decade ago, there was no Twitter and very few blogs. If I wanted fresh perspectives or ideas, I had to go door to door for advice.

And I got a lot of garbage advice.

Now, I can send a tweet using a few hashtags (they’re like categories for Twitter) and thousands of other math teachers from around the world can interact with me. It’s like a staff lounge, except I can ignore the grumpies without appearing rude.

Here’s an example.

It’s the middle of my career and I’m teaching slope. I’ve done it a few times, but it’s just not… landing this year. So I send out a tweet with a few hashtags that I know will get the word out to teachers who will teach my age group. Within 24 hours, I got responses from dozens of teachers across the continent, leaders in math education, the CEOs of curriculum companies, and — most importantly — other math teachers who have better ideas for teaching slope than I do.

All because I sent out a tweet, asking for advice.

Now, that community has begun to organize itself, writing books, having a presence at large math conferences, and even hosting their own free event every summer. That group of teachers who care deeply about kids, teaching, and self-improvement calls itself the Math Twitter Blogosphere, mercifully abbreviated the #MTBoS. Everyone say MITT-boss.

Teachers in attendance: MITT-boss!

Not all the participants in the MTBoS blog often or at all, not all of them tweet often or at all, but all of them (dramatic pause) want to be the best teacher they can be, (dramatic pause) and that’s a group that I’m happy to join.

And it doesn’t cost anything.

The hardest part of that pitch is when people say, “Sounds great! How do I join?”

Because we (Americans, Westerners, Educators, etc.) have ideas of “membership” that look like this:

Where there’s some kind of a ring around those who are “inside” and another ring for those who are “really inside.” There are some math teachers on Twitter who actually feel this way and that’s a real bummer.

When in reality, the #MTBoS looks more like this sexy visualization of data from Judy Larsen:

Judy is a Saturday mouse in this scenario.

UPDATE 08 August: And she tidily summarized the sentiment here:

Boom. Perfect.

Since the group has gotten large enough to have this kind of identity crisis, it’s now having to decide what kind of group it wants to be.

More on that tomorrow in Part 2.

~Matt “Green Mouse” Vaudrey

*Okay, I’m able to embellish a bit since it’s a blog post and not the 7th hour of an intense full-day workshop for math teachers. Check out the thread and sub-threads on that slope tweet, though. Mind-blowing.