#TMC16 Day 3: Learning is hard

As I’m sitting in my hotel room in Madison, WI the day after Twitter Math Camp ended, I’m trying to figure out the best way to phrase what I want to say. Because I think this post is going to come off as self-pitying to some, or whiny to others. But I’ve been processing some stuff about this conference and I need to put it down in words to help continue my learning process. And it starts a little bit meandering, so thank you if you sit through it, but no pressure. Just bear with me until the end where I promise it does get positive again.

I’m still new to teaching. I just finished my third year, but any reasonable person wouldn’t consider my first year as teaching experience so much as “How to survive feelings of constant failure and abuse while having no power to say anything about it.” So I’m still figuring a lot of shit out. While I think honesty is important with the kids, sometimes my face is too honest. Sometimes I get too annoyed with them. Sometimes a lesson that I think is going to be awesome is just a complete shitshow, and as soon as it’s over I see all of the places I should have known better if I hadn’t been blinded by my excitement. But I keep trucking on, because I want to be awesome at this. I didn’t get my teaching degree until I was 30, and I had a lot of life experiences that got me here. I know this is the job for me, and I know I can be better, so I keep working at it.

The MTBoS, and especially Twitter Math Camp, helps me to be better at it. These people all have these amazing ideas, and I learn so much. And I want to give back to the community. I want to present on things that I’m working on so people get ideas. And I will totally own the fact that I am selfish and like the feeling I get when someone says “Hey, I used this idea you had and it was great.” It’s why I signed up to present about Socratic Seminars last year and it’s why I joined Chris to do the morning session this year. I want to help everyone be better. And since I was Chris’ student teacher and had also attended his workshop at MfA New York, we do a lot of the same stuff in our classes already, so this was something I thought I could contribute a lot.

And the session went great! Everyone that I saw said either “oh my god, I got so much out of your presentation!” or “I’ve heard so much good feedback about your morning session. Great work!” We started our own hashtag that is blowing up. I feel confident that the session will at the very least get a lot of people thinking about how to add more discussion to their classrooms. Which is amazing.

Yet I was in such a shitty, shitty place Monday afternoon after our session finished. I was distracted and awkward and just wanted to go back to my room and lay down and not talk to anyone. I even wound up skipping any flex sessions (which was incredibly, incredibly difficult for me to do) because I just couldn’t be around people. And lying down was good, and I felt better, then we had a great dinner, and a great meander catching pokemon, and we watched the Bachelor and I had great conversations with Tracy and Michelle and Sheri. Things were good and I loved TMC and I was so sad it was ending.

The truth is I was embarrassed by how I contributed to the session. If you’ve ever heard Chris talk he’s engaging and funny and outgoing and knowledgeable. He leads a great PD, and I strongly recommend everyone listen to him talk. He’s also been giving similar PDs for five or six years now. He knows what he wants to say and he knows of good ways to say it and he has lots of ideas and it was really interesting to work with him on it. I’ve learned so much from working and talking with him.

None of that is me. I’m funny and maybe knowledgeable, but I’m new. New to teaching and new to speaking to a group of professionals. I can fake it a bit for short bursts but two hours a day for three days? I’m a mess. And I can hear Sam and Chris and Julie and more all saying “No, none of that is true.” Maybe, but it’s how I feel when I get up there, and I haven’t figured out how to quash it yet.

That all came to a head when I had to talk about Socratic Seminars in Math. This was the one thing that was mine. That I knew and that I had done before both at TMC and in my class, and that I wanted to talk about. And I think I kind of forced it into the session because I wanted to have something there that was mine, that I came up with and I contributed (how fucking childish is that?). The group would have been far better served to have that 15 minutes to work on adapting their own debate structures and then being given time to share out at the end. Seminar is a difficult thing that can’t be rushed.

And also, despite what people say, my talk was terrible. I pride myself on being able to read a room, and the way that I presented information was awkward and clunky. Everyone saw that what I was doing was interesting, but they didn’t quite get it and I was disjointed and jumping back and forth between slides. I picked a seminar that I created that I’ve never used in an actual classroom, instead of the one I did with kids TWO MONTHS AGO. I felt terrible and wanted to just run away.

But it’s TMC, and these are my people, and I didn’t want to waste the short time I have with them. And really I didn’t want to run away, I just wanted a time-turner to go back and redo everything. I was being selfish and wanted people to come up and say “Hey, your seminar sounds so cool, tell me more!” (and maybe they were thinking it, who knows. Again, I’m just explaining how I felt at the time).

I say all of this not looking for pity or encouragement. I’m good now. I talked it through with some people, I had time to gather my thoughts, I know that I did contribute things and I was a big part of the session and I am valuable and blah blah blah. I actually really DON’T want reassurance at this point, because I know I would just see it as perfunctory, so please don’t.

I say all of this because it’s a reminder to myself that learning is hard. I took a big step by doing a morning session, something I’ve never done before. And it was hard. And in my head I can see all of the places that I perceived that I failed (whether or not I actually did is immaterial). I’ve learned from them: Work time is important; Sometimes it’s better to cut things than to force them; Let your audience decide the flow rather than forcing your own agenda; Be more selfless.

I’m itching to try again, especially next year (and not just because I’m paranoid that if I don’t present I won’t get a spot…).

At the end of the day, I had a great TMC. Halfway through I was worried I wouldn’t get to say that, but I’ve come out the other side. I learned so much about myself and about teaching, like always, but this year it just felt different. In a good way, but still different. Learning is hard, and hard things are scary*. But they’re so important.

Thank you to everyone that made TMC amazing this year. From all the conversations I had to all of the new people I met to everyone that sucked at Trivia so we could win. I’m sorry if I didn’t get to talk to you, I promise that I am friendly, but very shy. Just awkwardly sit next to me next year and we can force our way through introductions. Beer helps. I love you all and hope you have a great end of summer.

*That’s what he said.



#TMC16 Day 2. Or “How is it only Day 2?”

I’ve said it several times already, but I live for Twitter Math Camp. As soon as the dates and location are announced I put it on my calendar, announce it on Facebook, and tell my boyfriend that the weekend is reserved. I live for this week of community and math and teaching.

But man, it’s exhausting.

We spend all day talking about teaching and math and getting excited about all the amazing stuff that everyone else is doing. Sessions go all day and then conversation goes late into the night. It’s invigorating and inspiring and I’ve said on numerous occasions that I’m the teacher I am because of it. But I swear if it was more than once a year I would burn out so quickly. Maybe if we saw each other more often we wouldn’t all feel the need to cram as much as possible into the weekend? Who knows.

I’m rushing to get through this before breakfast, so I’m being sloppy about links. I can find all of the stuff that I write about here, just ask.

Day 2 started with a short My Favorites session. First Heather Kohn spoke about her “Engineering Design Process” activities, and how they related to Mathematical Thinking process. I think I want to adapt some of that, because my kids are TERRIBLE so far at working through new problems. Then Dave Sobol did something interesting with maps and Voronoi diagrams, which looked cool, and Anna B talked about feedback meetings that give her less work grading. She had a great quote that paraphrases to things that invigorate you, even if they take more time, will be more sustaining to you as a teacher in the long run. This is something that I’ve thought for a while ,but haven’t been able to put into words. Energy is a much better resource for me than time, and I need to be aware of conserving it.

Our morning session is still going really well. Numerous people have said “Wait, that was two hours? It goes so fast!” We way, way, way overplanned the session and there’s just not enough time to cover everything AND give work time. But as long as people are still getting stuff out of it I’m happy. Only one more morning left!

After lunch we had another short My Favorites. Sam talked about his “Explore! Math!“, which looks so amazing. I was already planning on doing it this year to help preview kids for the IB math explorations, but this just reminded me why I’m so excited about it. Then David Wees talked a bit about taking time now to work on making better questions, and Connie H talked about her recent trip to Rwanda. Her stories are pretty powerful and helped take me out of my bubble a bit (but in a great way).

We then had a keynote by Tracy Zager, which was fantastic. Funny but meaningful, with specific content and specific calls to action that really made me think. There are recordings of it that I don’t have time to find right now, but please take an hour and check it out. Her call that we work on diversifying our Professional Learning Network to cover all of K – 12 really inspired me to spend more time talking and working with elementary school teachers. Too often I think “I’m teaching 11th graders, that’s a different conversation than #elemchat.” But the fact is it’s not, and we can learn a ton from each other. I was talking to Wendy after the fact and she suggested a vertical integration PLT for MfA NYC and that seems like a great idea.

The first afternoon session I attended was by Nicole B about Identity, specifically the identity of being a “Math Person.” She opened by talking a bit about all of the identities we have and how powerful those identities are. I need to stop letting anyone around me say “I’m not a math person” because it’s so damaging to general attitudes toward math. I always try to encourage all of my kids to think of themselves as capable but I really want to step that up this year, from day 1.

The second afternoon session was by Jonathan , about hacking curriculum to pieces. He started with a marble race video, which I’m not sure had anything to do with the presentation but was super engaging and memorable. And I think it speaks to his classroom culture and personality very well.  We then looked at standards and talked about grouping things by Action words instead of topic. He starts his year with focusing on equation solving instead of focusing on linear functions. He covers all the same material but just in a different way, and I admire his fearlessness in just turning things on their head and doing them in a different way. Especially in Algebra 2 the general order of the class can be a little arbitrary, and it’s nice to shake things up.

For dinner, we went to RePUBlic because Mathalicious sponsored a trivia night. It was hard, but our team won!

The night was super subdued because we’re all exhausted, but I met up with Jonathan and we went to Julie’s room to talk about how he does his notebooks, and just to chat in general about teaching. I say all the time that this is my favorite part of TMC. I love finding people at all hours, in all places, and talking about math. Last year, after the second day, everyone was leaving the building and someone turned to me and, in an amazed tone, “I can’t believe everyone is STILL geeking out about math here. They never stop!” And it’s true. We’re always looking for each other to learn more and to celebrate success and be better together. And it’s super, super amazing, and I love this place, and I value it.

But man, it’s exhausting.


#TMC16 Day 1: A different kind of beast

The longer I am a teacher and the longer I am active in this thing called #MTBoS, the more I seem to be taking on. My first TMC I just showed up. Last year I did a “My Favorites” and a short afternoon session. This year Chris asked if I wanted to do a Morning Session with him. Well, morning sessions are crazy. They’re awesome to lead, but also stressful to plan and run, especially for someone like me that struggles with self-confidence. I mean, I just finished  my third year teaching and I’m telling 15 year veterans they should be doing new stuff in their classroom? Right, sure. And Chris is old hat at it by now, but I’m still figuring out how to do it. Add to that the stress of two dozen people coming up to us over the last few days letting us know they were planning on coming to our session, and I start to regret some life choices. Needlessly, as it turns out, because things seem to be going well, but more on that in a sec.

The first day of TMC always starts with each person that’s leading a morning session giving a short intro. We wrote a little rhyme for ours (which you can see if you watch the first 54 seconds of Julie’s periscope ) that seemed to go over well, then off to our rooms. We had a small room for about 25 people, which we had to fit 40 people into. Good problem to have overall, but we had to think on our feet a little bit. We did intros with a Talking Circle, previewed Talking Points, and started introducing Chris’ debate stuff with the “My claim is… My warrant is…” structure. All the feedback we’ve gotten so far has been great, and I’m looking forward to Day 2.

After lunch at Seward Cafe, we had a quick My Favorite’s session. Jonathan spoke about his awesome Varsity Math program that he does every year, and then called me out for my love/need of stickers for my clipboard. Then we heard a bit from Hedge about SnagIt and a bit from Deb about a cool-looking PacMan transformation activity.

We then had a keynote by Jose Vilson, who founded the #EduColor movement. He talked to us about the fact that as teachers, we are in the best position to have conversations about race issues. Because I got my Masters as part of a program designed to help me teach in an urban environment, these conversations are something I’ve been talking about since Grad School.  We’ve had several conversations within our school about ways to increase diversity among the student body and staff. I think this topic is so important for teachers, especially for those that don’t teach minority populations (since minority students are usually painfully aware of how messed up things are). That said, I wish he had included more strategies and suggestions about HOW to have these conversations. Whenever the audience asked, for example, “How do you have this conversation with your students that might have opposing viewpoints?” he would say “That’s a great question.” It was a great question, and I wanted to hear some more resources for that. As a math teacher, even one that uses a lot of discussion and has kids that discuss a lot in other classes, I struggle to have proper structures for having serious-but-awkward conversations in the classroom. I’d be interested in seeing the MTBoS put together sets of strategies for these sorts of talks. Having resources helps to enable these conversations happening.

After the keynote, we had two afternoon sessions. The first one I went to was led by Sheila Orr about including Social Justice issues in the classroom through Problem Based Learning.  I love, love, love this idea, and want to include more opportunities to apply math to these sorts of real situations. But like I thought last year during Alex and Mary’s morning session, I keep thinking that I’m not quite smart enough to create these activities for problem-based learning on my own. I’m going to be digging through all the resources she gave to get some more inspiration. The second one was from Wendy about using problem-solving strategies in class. She used Crossing the River with Dogs to create a problem-solving course for off-track upperclassmen. I have the book and tried to use it last year to have a problem-solving unit in our class, but it flopped, so it was really interesting to see how she put together a whole semester-long course on it. I’m going to think about ways to include some of the strategies (and more importantly the mental flexibility) that comes from such a course.

After the afternoon we had a dinner for TMC newbies. This is the first year we’ve done it and I think it was so great. Hat-tip to Glenn for organizing it, I think it was so important to help people feel more a part of it. The three ladies I sat with were awesome and they seem to really be enjoying their time here. Twitter Math Camp is such a hugely important part of my year and my identity as a teacher and it makes me so happy that more people are coming and experiencing it. Even if you can’t make it every year, I think just being exposed to these crazy-awesome educators makes us all better. Next year I’m going to lean heavily on more of my department to come and experience it (especially if it follows the pattern and moves east!)

Then, rather than hanging out, Chris and I worked for over an hour to prep our morning session for today. So I didn’t get to talk Algebra 2 with Lisa and Jonathan, or dance with everyone in the dorms, but it was good. Like I said before, giving a morning session is such a different kind of beast when it comes to TMC. It’s really interesting to work with all the teachers and hear their questions, because there are so many things that I’ve internalized after working with Chris and being in my own environment that I don’t think about (or that I’ve gotten sloppy about) and I’m surprised how much I’ve learned myself just from explaining what we do to others.

I’m going to be late for the afternoon my favorites so I must go.




#TMC16 Day 0: #Descon16 Desmos Preconference

You know you’re a real math teacher nerd when you sign up for an extra day of PD just so you can hang with your friends and learn really, really cool stuff for your classroom. This year ahead of Twitter Math Camp 16, Desmos threw together a one-day event for all of us to become more familiar with the calculator and all of the amazing things it can do.

The day started with breakfast (thanks Desmos!) and then a keynote by Eli sent in from Germany. It was mainly a lot of announcements that I forgot, but it did give the whole thing an air of “This is a big deal.” Then several of the staff members showed us some cool new Desmos features. One of the big ones is accessibility for blind and low-vision studends. Now, using the Accessibility narrator on your computer, Desmos will audibly describe your graphs. It will tell you where points are and where your cursor is on the graph. But a bonus side-effect of this is that now it will also play a tone that correlates to each graph. So for example if you have a parabola it will play a decreasing then increasing tone. Rachel, James, and Chris all worked together to make Desmos play “Mary had a little lamb.” https://www.desmos.com/calculator/xdz17jn1rw  This could be such a great STEAM activity, where not only can we use Desmos to make art, we can also use it to make music.

Next we had some smaller break-out sessions where we just got to play with the different features of the calculator. Heather and I sat and learned all about lists [square brackets for the win!], polar graphs, and I even learned how to do shading to show integrals. It was really fun to just spend some time playing with the features in a big group and showing off the crazy things that we made (Heather made a particularly awesome Polar graph). It really is such a powerful little system and the staff deserves a medal for making it all free. One weird perk of the day was that the graph I submitted for my Desmos fellowship application was included in the “Desmos Potluck” slides, which won’t mean anything to anyone not at the conference but I was pretty proud of/embarrassed by.

We then had lunch (thanks again Desmos!) and a keynote from Sara VanDerWerf encouraging us to be “evangelists” for things that are important to us. For example, she said we should get out and show students, parents, and teachers all the ways that Desmos is amazing and useful. I really enjoyed the talk, and now I want a sign that says “Desmos Evangelist” for my classroom.

After Sara’s talk, we learned a bit more about Activity Builder. Two major things of note from Dan Meyer and Christopher Danielson:

  • Bundles: Desmos has taken a bunch of activities and “bundled” them into topics. So for example https://teacher.desmos.com/quadratic gives you a sequence of tasks that build on each other to help explain different features of quadratic functions and their graphs. So far this looks so convenient and I can’t wait to look into them more as I start teaching Algebra 2 this year.
  • Create your own cardsorts and marbleslides:  Gotta give Desmos credit, if you complain they listen. They now let you make your own marbleslides and card sorts! To activate the feature, just click on your name in the top right, then go to labs, and enable them. I made my first ever activity with Julie’s help! It was a Visual Patterns card sort. And the whole process made me realize how much more I should have been using Activity Builder this year. It’s so easy and intuitive.

Desmos finished off the day by treating us to a drink at happy hour (They really know how to win over a bunch of math nerds). My favorite part of TMC is always the people, so these nights where we all get to just hang out and talk and build relationships are so important for me. Even though I can get overwhelmed and super-awkward around new people, I still love it and it’s something I always push myself to take the most advantage of.

I have to go now because I have to get breakfast, set-up, and go to the TMC Newbie thing, all in the next 20 minutes. Sorry for no pictures, those take so much damn time.