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Twitter Math Camp Reflections Day 1

July 28, 2017
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Earlier this spring I won the lottery and got a ticket to Twitter Math Camp, and after only one day, I can say that this is the most incredible professional development conference in education around, bar none.

What makes this conference great? I think it’s in the tiny details. These details are the ideas you would think up if you had 200 people helping to plan your conference thinking—”wouldn’t it be just a bit better if we did X,” and then most of the time, took the responsibility to do X. Here are just a few:

  • Sam Shah made buttons for newbies and “adorably shy” introverts—we’re talking 50 or more of these buttons. I still remember the second AAPT conference I went to on my own in Canada when I’d been teaching physics a couple of years. I don’t think I spoke to a single person for more than 30 seconds for three days other than the rental car agent. I just went to sessions, sat in the back, took notes and just felt too afraid to engage anyone in conversation. I don’t know that a button is a magic solution to welcoming us introverts to conferences, but it’s just one way in which TMC has shown a crazy level of commitment to making people feel welcome. There was also a first timers meeting and dinner that were genuinely welcoming, a speed dating conversation session, multiple reminders about how it’s ok to jump into conversations in person and on Twitter, and so much more.
  • Sprinkling announcements in between “My Favorite” talks—My Favorites are great little 5 minute presentations anyone can present about some super cool tool or aspect of their teaching, and they’re great, but not all that unusual—they’re a staple of edCamp. What is awesome is that Lisa made 1 or 2 quick announcements between each 5-minute talk, rather than taking 5 minutes at the beginning or end of the session. This made the entire session feel much snappier.
  • Meticulously planned sessions with an eye for marketing—The conference opens with each of the presenters of the morning sessions standing up and giving a quick description of their talks. But they don’t just say “Hi I’m so and so and I’ll be talking about such and such,” it’s clear they spent a serious amount of time thinking about how they could best use 30 seconds to market their workshop. The first group even wrote a poem to describe their workshop. Two other presenters came in custom embroidered chef’s jackets they made for their “classroom chef” workshop. All of this also gave me a much better idea of my session proposals didn’t make the cut.
  • A truly generous spirit—Have you heard of a conference where a teacher would spend hours in the evening teaching others to crochet? How about an entire hashtag dedicated to participants inviting each other to various activities?

I could go on and on. I also haven’t mentioned the simply incredible keynote talk by Grace Chen (see part 1 here), or everything I loved about @CheesmonkeySF fantastic #cheezyExeter workshop. I’ll do my best to write on those soon.

At the same time, I can say that I don’t think I can convince anyone in the “real world” why this workshop is so great. I know a lot of great educators outside the MTBoS/#iteachmath community, some of them have no online presence at all and see social media as a mostly destructive enterprise—so they can’t see the ways in which our social media connection create an extra layer of connection and familiarity that make this conference so wonderful. Other great teachers I know don’t teach math, but fully embrace the idea of being a connected educator, and I think they’d see TMC as just another voice in the chorus of great connected education, when in reality, TMC is the the standout soloist that towers above all the rest. And I know every time I’ve tried to convince one of my math colleagues, or an administrator that this is the most powerful professional development in the world by long shot, I get quizzical looks, and somehow get a feeling that they think “that may be great for weirdos like you, John, but I don’t think it’s really all that great for normal people like me.”

I want TMC to be the model for professional development everywhere and the MTBoS/#iteachmath community the mainstream of math education, or at least to be widely recognized as an incubator of ideas that have transformed math education and the lives of many student. Somehow, I think I fail when it comes to making this case. This is something I’m going to be thinking about a lot in the days ahead.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 28, 2017 9:59 am

    I want TMC to be the model for professional development everywhere and the MTBoS/#iteachmath community the mainstream of math education, or at least to be widely recognized as an incubator of ideas that have transformed math education and the lives of many student

    What if it’s not about TMC, but it’s about the people themselves? I know that’s a weird question, but what I’m trying to ask is whether a TMC structure without Lisa Henry, Grace Chen, Sam Shah, Tina Cardone, Kate Nowak, Max Ray-Riek, Christopher Danielson, Carl Oliver…etc. etc etc would really have the same feel.

    Is it about the things that TMC does, or is it about the people who do those things? Putting it more broadly, is MTBoS about the power of twitter/blogs, or is it about the amazingness of the people, and it’s those amazing people that makes TMC hum?

    I don’t know the answer, but I suspect it’s the people, and not that MTBoS/TMC has “cracked” the PD code or anything — which of course is not exactly what you were saying AT ALL, but just that I wonder if the PD model of MTBoS/TMC really can scale and serve as a model more broadly.

    Thanks for the recap post! Wish I was there with all of you.

    • July 28, 2017 11:22 pm

      I think there are tremendous people in the physics community, and I think people like Andy, Kelly, Frank, Rhett and others make the Physics Teacher Community just as vibrant—we’ve had our own global department, virtual coaching, twitter camp, and more. But I think what sets MTBoS/TMC apart is the scale—there are just so many math teachers out there, and if you get 0.001% of them to commit to the MTBoS, you get way more impact than you do when you reach 0.001% of physics teachers.

      But my real question is why can’t others see this? In particular, why can administrators looking for math teachers see that TMC is THE place they should go to recruit new teachers? Why aren’t schools lining up to host TMC, knowing that this will expose their institution to 200 inspiring teachers, which should make it far easier to fill the next math opening?

      I’m going to try to write a bit more about this, but my biggest question right now is why can’t otherwise great teachers and administrators percieve the value in the MTBoS that we see in it?

      • July 29, 2017 9:08 pm

        Your point about scale resonates with me — it’s certainly been my experience that physics teachers are every bit as kind, thoughtful and passionate as MTBoSers. My comment was more about imagining the limits of scaling MTBoS across the math edu profession, or even across the ENTIRE teaching profession.

        Your question is very interesting to me. I’m looking forward to the next post!

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