Hello, reader! If you intend to post a link to this blog on Twitter, be aware that for utterly mysterious reasons, Twitter thinks this blog is spam, and will prevent you from linking to it. Here's a workaround: change the .com in the address to .ca. I call it the "Maple Leaf Loophole." And thanks for sharing!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Making a Gift More Valuable

Spiegel Online: Forensic Anthropologists at Work
I'm starting to feel a little like an anthropologist, but I'm finding the implications of and discussions stemming from the last post framing the MTBoS as a gift culture, to be fascinating. Logical questions are: "What is a gift? What kinds of contributions earn a person status in our culture? If you're going to participate by gift-giving, anyway, are there steps you can take to make your gift more valuable?"

I think we'd all agree that status itself, here, is not the goal. That would be silly. But it can be a motivation, and that's okay. Importantly, the gifts make us, all who are participating in many different capacities, better teachers. That's worth paying attention to.

There are different kinds of gifts this community finds valuable: curation, commentary, cheerleading. But a discussion on Twitter today made me want to write down some guidelines for what features make a gift more valuable. Several people expressed incredulity, arguing that an artifact's value is too dependent on the needs of the receiver to make this exercise meaningful. But I disagree. While you might find one gift more valuable than I do, gifts can have general features that make them objectively more valuable to the community.

I am not posting this to make anyone feel like they should do something. Let's please keep the MTBoS easy fun free. You're free to do some, none, or all of these. You're free to quit this tab right now and order a pizza. But my feeling is, the more your gift displays these features, the more useful and valuable it will be. The ever-incisive Justin Lanier stated the query thusly:


Pershan's Desk

This one is about community. It's also about leveraging MTBoS so everyone becomes better teachers much more rapidly than they would without it.
  • Allows comments; responds to direct questions, arguments, and suggestions.
  • Citing/linking others’ work as inspiration. Beyond the blog roll, can I backtrack the evolution of your idea? (see Brian's adaptation of Fawn's post about a Taboo game)
  • Is on Twitter 
  • Responds to @ questions on Twitter
(A good example that it's possible to be influential without Twitter is Shireen. Her Math Teacher Mambo blog is amazing, but Twitter doesn't seem to be her cup of tea, but that's okay.)


from Infinite Sums
  • The math content is wrapped in well-matched pedagogical moves. Instead of just some cool math problem, we can see how the learning happened (see Matt's The Mullet Ratio. See Liisa and Jessica's use of dialog.) 
  • A lesson comes from some sort of curricular or philosophical organizing structure, instead of a one-off. (There are comprehensive examples like 3Acts, but see how Bowman shares a problem to motivate Riemann Sums, but frames it as a unit anchor problem.)
  • Descriptions are illustrated with classroom photos, snapshots of whiteboards or IWBs, scans or snaps of student work. (see Fawn on any given day, Jonathan's blockheaded students, Frank doing his thing.)
  • Providing docs is more valuable than not. People rarely print out and use docs wholesale, but they value not having to start from scratch.
  • When docs are provided, editable is higher-valued than pdfs.
  • When docs are provided, being able to download them immediately from Dropbox or another server is more valuable than having to request them by email like it's 1997. 
On protecting your work: when we share something, we want and expect it to be used, adapted, and re-shared by teachers and maybe professors in teacher ed programs. We don't expect anyone to take our stuff, adapted or not, and sell it on Teachers Pay Teachers or its ilk. We certainly don't expect it to show up in a book or website of a large publisher. You can't do anything technologically to prevent this (even pdf's can be recreated by an enterprising soul). But, you can give yourself some recourse down the road, should someone seriously cash in on your work. Go here and get you one of these.

Humanity and Hilarity
  • Just like your kids don't want you to be a teacherbot, no one wants to read a bloggerbot. People feel more connected to a personality. Let your voice come through. If you don't feel like you have a voice yet, the answer is to write more. (see: Mimi, Sophie)
  • Earestness and seriousness beats work-a-day, but earnestness + a sense of humor is killer (too many examples, but I'm thinking the Platonic ones are Shawn and Fawn.) 
So, let me know what you think! Did I miss anything? Do you have any better examples than the ones I cited? Am I way off base even trying to write these down? 

Many thanks to Justin Lanier who basically deserves a byline on this post, and to @algebrainiac1 @vtdeacon @JJJsally @jybuell and @samjshah whose help on Twitter planted some of these seeds.


  1. It's interesting that you bring up anthropology in terms of gifts - they have a different take on it. This article is a decent summary.

    Nice summary of how to be an effective blogger, though. Maybe I'll try again this year...

  2. Love this. Really appreciate how thoughtful you've been about this entire discussion. Thanks for linking my blog, it was super easy to set up that system on blogger. I would add that comments should not only be enabled but as open as possible (unless you have serious issues with spam skip the blurry letters and the moderation and the signing in).

  3. Just like your last two posts, this is post is excellent. Thank you.

    One thing that strikes me about your post is that everything that you've mentioned is pretty much about stuff that you can do in the classroom, i.e. lessons, tasks, or activities (or templates for any of these things).

    I think that's absolutely right, and it's something else that is worth mentioning about what this community values. This community is full of people that need remarkable stuff to do with students.

    That's not to say that thoughts about assessments aren't valuable. And anecdotes are valuable too. But if you've got a bunch of killer lessons, that's eventually going to get you some attention in the MTBoS.

  4. I, too, love all these posts from both yourself...and the many you link to. However, I am new to the MTBoS (Math Teacher BlogoSphere?). I wouldn't know how to create a blog even if I was able to. For that matter, I don't even know how to attach my name in blue to this post. And Twitter? I feel like I'm missing out on something there.

    Is there a blog post out there for the technophobic electronically unaware math teacher to get started on twitter? I probably could figure out how to create an account (not that I would mind guidance), but what to do from there?

    Thanks to everyone for your effort in helping teach the difficult for many subject of mathematics!

  5. Hi Junger, here are some instructions this community wrote up for starting a blog. If you have more questions, feel free to drop me a line at

  6. Know what I like about this post? You're taking a rather esoteric conversation and making it into a concrete thing. If even just one person (junger, maybe?) jumps into one conversation, I think this post is worth it.

    Here's some whuffie for mentioning my favorites:
    * distributing your stuff under a Creative Commons license - intentionally
    * providing downloadable and editable source files

    As we grow, many of our best resources become harder to find. Now, I'm not crazy enough to suggest some formal taxonomy (talk about a high council making decisions!) but some indexing is necessary. Sam's Virtual Filing Cabinet is great because it's human-curated, which tends to up my trust in its content. Also, lots of folks know about and use it. Your Row Games is another I find myself returning to, as well. I can't tell you how many times recently I've failed to find something of my own, that I just knew I wrote about interactive notebooks.

    All that's to say, I'd add the following to your advice about making a gift more valuable:
    * make it findable

  7. I like the part about Hilarity... My focus this year is to make sure things are not only challenging, my preferred style!, but also fun. This is going to be my gift to the students. Lots of resources to help out there but I find board games such as the ones in "Making Math More Fun" ( ) to be particularly relevant.


Hi! I will have to approve this before it shows up. Cuz yo those spammers are crafty like ice is cold.