Three weeks ago, I wore my “I only twitter with math teachers” shirt into Manhattan. I got lots of random compliments. A few were from hipsters from Williasmburg, thinking I was being ironic. (Pause.) I’m not. I do only twitter with math teachers. I also blog. I want to tell you why. I’ll try to be concrete.
Three days ago I sent a tweet into the electronic ether, saying I was giving a short talk on blogs and twitter – and asked for any thoughts. Here are some responses. Jason and others suggested I tweet right now, live, and get responses to show y’all the instantaneous power of twitter. Others agreed to jump in and help. Rudy suggested I call what we’re doing hyper-mini-realtime-professional-development-with-instant-feedback.
David said “let me know when you need me so I can set an alarm.” Thetwitterer with the best handle… sarcasymtote… said “Can we have preassigned roles? I’ll place a well-timed sarcastic comment.” Mrs. Fuller, Jackie, and Lisa all offered to help also. The point is – they have my back. They support me. Imagine if you had this type of support at your fingertips… to ask “How do you grade homework?” or “Anyone got a worksheet they like on inequalities?” or “What is a real world application of rational functions?”… and get real, concrete and immediate answers? Having these people in my life has changed my teaching practice for the better.
So who are these people? Um, well, ahem, actually, um… okay, I’ll fess up. They’re total strangers. This is a map of our geographic distribution. We teach middle and high school, mostly in public schools – sometimes in very poor performing schools. A few of us teach in private schools. Some have been teaching 20 years and some just finished up their first.
This is mytweep David. I asked him to talk about blogs and twitter in less than 20 seconds. We can’t show the video here, but here’s what he said: “I really appreciate blogs and twitter because they're asynchronous. I can take responsibilities like this (this is where David pans over to his adorable baby) and then I can join the conversation when it's convenient for me. Twitter's great for quick bursts of information, link sharing, and things like that. Blogs are awesome for fleshing out ideas and getting feedback. So if you're not doing either one of them, jump in. Conversations great.”
Collaborations arise out of our online interactions. When I was redesigning my Algebra II course, I found with zero effort a bunch of teachers ready to share all their materials online with each other. Also, in the last few months on blogs and twitter, there have been a zillion discussions about assessments, homework, grading. What happened? A wiki was created to collected resources, links, and ideas. And recently, blogger and twitterer Kate Nowak was going out of town and needed a video to teach her class about the binomial theorem when she was away. We both looked. I can say with certainty that all the videos online were garbage.
I suggested we have a contest and Kate agreed – who could design the best video on the binomial theorem. Kate offered the winner an ill-fitting crusty old tshirt she had lying around. (One of many reasons I love Kate.) I offered a copy of the book Euler’s Gem. Jason Dyerwon the book and the t-shirt. His entry involved Q-bert. It was one of the best, super-tight, most engaging lessons I’ve seen. Copy this address down and check it out!
Now I’m going to talk specifically about blogs. I keep up with blogs using Google Reader. You simply type the web addresses of the blogs you want to follow, and voila! You now have something like a newspaper which updates automatically, with only the journalists you enjoy reading.
The number one reason I don’t just read blogs, but I feel compelled to write a blog too, is because I want to archive what I do in the classroom, and think about what I’m doing. By writing about something I’ve done – like I did for an Algebra 2 video project I tried out a few years ago – I actually can organize and process AND SAVE all my thoughts.
I also blog to ask questions. I have a lot of questions. I like getting advice from other teachers way more than from abstract ed journal articles. One thing I did was simply ask teachers to write how they “did” homework. In literally a couple of days, I had 40 comprehensive narrative responses. Man, that showed me this is truly powerful stuff.
Riley Lark, at his blog Points of Inflection, has been interested in the “soft skills” of teaching. Those are the non-curricular aspects of teaching, such as teaching respect, teaching curiosity, creating a positive classroom atmosphere, and dealing with the emotional needs of your students. You know, the hard stuff. So he decided to host a virtual conference this summer. He’s rallied some bloggers to write posts on this theme, and is having them “publish” their thoughts. These kinds of things happen all the time. And you can just throw yourself in.
Finally, blogging keeps me engaged in math. Sometimes I’ll pose an interesting problem and watch what other people can do with it. They usually solve things way more elegantly than I ever thought possible. Other times, I’ll go to a blog and see a problem that I just really, really, truly madly deeply, want to solve. Above is a picture of a roll of raffle tickets that Dan Meyer posted on his blog recently. The question he wanted answered is how many tickets are in this green roll. We discussed how a geometry class might arrive at the answer, but Dan was interested in having a calculus solution. Boy did I have some fun modeling the roll of tickets as an Archimedean spiral.
I’m going to try to tie things up. Mostpeople I’ve talked to who are truly committed to teaching math have said something like this slide. (pause) You’re in a department with well-meaning people (…if you’re lucky…) but there aren’t a lot of others who are devoted to working on the craft of teaching. I hear this a lot.
As I said, math teachers who blog and tweet span all ages and teach in all kinds of different schools all over the country. And all of them are trying to mold or refine their crafts -- and support each other in our journey. It’s truly a self-selecting group. (Pause.) It also sounds an awful lot like another group I know.
Why do you come here? Because you get a tingle in the back of your neck when someone starts talking teacher talk with you. Your husband or your girlfriend or your friends might not get it. But there is no shame in geeking out about teaching when you’re at PCMI. (Pause.) With blogs and twitter, you can rock out with your geek out – all without leaving the comfort of your laptop.
Last slide. Dan Meyer, blogger extraordinaire put it another way. For this mini-talk, I asked him to coin a word and definition describing what we are doing online. He sent me this slide. All I have to say is FTW. For. The. Win.
math teachers at your school<br />math teachers<br />who care deeply<br />about the craft<br />of teaching<br />you<br />maybe one<br />other person<br />
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