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:



Organization

Pershan's Desk

Responsiveness/Connectivity
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.)

Generality
Context


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.)
Adaptability
  • 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.