40 Choose 2 First Dates, or Initial Impressions of TMC12

I just got back from Twitter Math Camp (TMC), after an uneventful flight home, after a super eventful time in St. Louis.

I have a lot to say about the content of the conference itself (program of the sessions offered here), but I wanted to take some time to pound out my initial reflections about what I just experienced… which is something that transcended the content I was picking up. To begin, here’s a tweet from today, after we all said our final goodbyes and scattered to various modes of transportation.

Now to backtrack. The fuse of this conference was lit three years ago when the twitter world started exploding with math teachers from all over, who couldn’t not think about math instruction at all times of the day (and night). Okay, maybe not exploding, but there were a ton of blogging math teachers who decided to start communicating in a more real-time way, and three years ago I started seeing twitter become saturated in a way that cool things were resulting organically. A sustainable, supportive community was forming (complete with inside jokes). One ongoing joke was about us hosting a “conference” on a cruise ship… so we could have a vacation and have it paid for by our schools as professional development.

samjshah thinking about it. the only math tweeps i’ve met in person: @jimwysocki@k8nowak @sarcasymptote @j_lanier @CmonMattTHINK

CardsChic @samjshah You’re ahead of me! Math tweeps met in person: 0.

jreulbach @samjshah wow! How cool! I can’t wait to go to math conferences and meet you all!

samjshah @CmonMattTHINK we should plan to meet up at a conference this year.

JackieB @samjshah @CmonMattTHINK I vote for NCTM in Indy. Or the tent-conference thingy in @dcox21‘s backyard. Or both.

CmonMattTHINK @JackieB @samjshah It’d have to be somewhat north-easternly for me. Like the Brooklyn Sour Beer Conference or something. :-)

samjshah baltimore NCTM guys. BALTIMORE!

jreulbach @samjshah I’m going to Baltimore. Already have approval from my admin. PARTY. ; )

nyates314 Agree! RT @samjshah: baltimore NCTM guys. BALTIMORE!

approx_normal @samjshah We gotta change that!! Tweeps Cruise!!! (Unless there’s someone who doesn’t wanna be “On A Boat”)

Fouss @approx_normal Oooh.. a cruise. I’m down with that.

nyates314 @approx_normal You can’t not be on a boat.

approx_normal @CmonMattTHINK @samjshah they’ve got beer ON THE BOAT…. C’mon – @fouss and @druinok are already on board. If Brett performs, @Mseiler‘s in

Sarah_IC @druinok Twitter cruise would be fabulous. I’ve learned so much from all of you!

jreulbach @druinok Why isn’t NCTM doing THAT? conference on a cruise. I am so in! [0]

And then this joke became a reality of sorts [1]. And a few months ago, some of us decided to actually do it — have an official meet up, instead of the informal meetups that were happening when one or another of us was visiting friends in San Francisco, or driving through New York, and getting coffee with each other (and hoping that the person we were meeting wasn’t a krazypsychokiller).

So, through the hard work of a lot of people, and the spearheading of two lead organizers, an actual conference came together. It started out, at least in my mind, with the idea that we might be able to get a dozen people together for some fun and informal teacher talk. And initially, that’s what happened. A few hardcore people signed up. And then more. And then more. I remember checking the registration list and being surprised when we hit 20. And, to cut a long story short, when registration closed, we had 40 people from the US and Canada all flying and driving to St. Louis for our first Twitter Math Camp conference.

How did this happen?, I wondered. I mean, most of the participants were coming from public schools and many weren’t getting a lot (or any) funding. So, even with sharing a hotel room and assuming basic transportation costs, it was going to run more than $500. It was in the middle of the summer, which meant that a lot of people had to leave their families (some leaving their kids for more time than they ever have before! 5 days!). And most participants had never met each other in real life.

But the fact that so many people decided to come (and others were insanely jealous because they couldn’t come) is a testament to what we have done in the past couple years. We’ve formed a group that has become more than a professional development tool, more than just a way to get this or that resource or steal this or that idea. It’s a close-knit community of people who care about each other. @sophgermain said it well:

I did write a crappy little blog.  Then Dan read it, then Dan posted about it.  Then I started twitter stalking all of you. I said a couple things and feigned shyness for about a week.  (It does not come naturally to me, i.e. I am inclined towards being obnoxious.)  Then I just started talking and you talked back.  And I was part of something.  I was part of a community. […]

So I just wanted to take a moment and say even though I wasn’t there [at TMC];  you are the best.  This community of people has made me a better teacher but more than that a better person.  You have all helped formed my opinions on education and taught me how to be a teacher. You have reaffirmed my belief time and time again that there is no shortage in the world of hard working dedicated teachers.

Thank you for making me laugh, thank you for helping me find a job, thank you for reading my cover letters, lessons plans, resumes, and this crappy little blog. Thank you for helping me love my job. Thank you for being my real life friends. [ed note: underlining mine]

(For some of my previous thoughts on this, see Why Twitter?, How BlogBuddies Became Friends, and Blogotwitterversesphere.)

It is so clear to me that we have become this wide group of friends who have our real lives and virtual lives totally intertwined — where we have emotional (and not just professional) attachments with each other. You see, the core commonality among all of us is a passion for sucking a little bit less as teachers each year. And for those of us who have this passion, our lives are truly centered around our jobs. In other words, you can’t really know me without referencing me as a teacher. It gets to the core of who I am. So it’s no wonder that we all get each other.

So when Education Week said that The Math Blogotwittersphere is the Best Blogotwittersphere, I didn’t throw my hands up and exclaim “HELL YEAH!” I was like… um, duh?

Without a doubt, the conference was for and about becoming less sucky teachers. But as a virtual community, it was also a chance to change how we talk about each other.

Sample interaction before TMC12 (BTMC):

[Me laughing, while looking at my phone…]
NYC Friend: What’s so funny?
Me: Just something my friend said.
NYC Friend: Which friend?
Me: Um… you wouldn’t know them.
NYC Friend: Is this one of your stupid twitter friends?

Sample interaction after TMC12 (ATMC):

[Me laughing, while looking at my phone…]
NYC Friend: What’s so funny?
Me: Just something my friend said.
NYC Friend: Which friend?
Me: You wouldn’t know them.
NYC Friend: Is this another one of your stupid twitter friends?

At the conference, we were connecting in ways we couldn’t connect online. For example, there’s this glorious picture of someone connecting with me:

(Just to be clear, this picture is not what it looks like. I can’t have my reputation sullied through a misreading of this picture. THIS WAS A JOKE. GEEZ. GET OVER IT.)

It was like we were on 40C2 first dates, which felt our 40C2 fiftieth-gazillion dates. Because we all KNEW each other. We knew about each others’s schools, kids, husbands/wives/bfs/gfs, movie and music preferences, deepest fears (SPIDERS!!!)… and still wanted to meet. I think the highest praise I can give is that the overwhelming feeling of nostalgia I had after leaving from this four day conference was greater than the nostalgia I had after leaving the amazing three-week PCMI conference.

Every session that I attended was great. (But of course the best session was the one I led!) I learned about interactive notebooks and foldables, about the concept of “flow” in the classroom and how to disrupt the hidden pedagogical contract that schools have with kids, and about teasing kids with motivating questions and problems. I was re-inspired to use geogebra in the classroom, and reconsidering the notion of what a flipped classroom might look light. And we had a lot of time to formally and informally share tricks of the trade. Whether it be how to get cheap giant whiteboards and use them effectively in the classroom, to saying “What questions do you have?” instead of “Any questions?”, to being consistent in asking a kid who says something disparaging to someone else say “two nice things about them… go!”  and in asking a kid who says something disparaging about themselves to say “two nice things about yourself.”

This, in itself, is powerful. There were concrete and useful takeaways for my classroom practice. But what made it all the more powerful for me is that I was getting these ideas from teachers I knew personally and trusted. Everything was vetted. And anytime I need more information, or resources, or have questions, I can just send an email, tweet, or comment on a blog. And I can give back by sharing my experience with the things I take from others. Our community is dynamic and responsive and open to ideas and change, and we’re all on equal footing. And that only comes from us being friends. (And the fact of the matter is collaborating with friends is waaaay more fun than with colleagues-who-aren’t-friends… and who doesn’t need a lot of fun and smiles in their lives?)

But the sessions were only part of it, and I would argue, the less important part. We broke bread together while rehashing old memories together, as old friends do. If anyone felt that what we had wasn’t real, watching me give @approx_normal a piggyback ride at the Budweiser Brewery Tour, seeing @jreulbach excitedly show us and an entire movie theater how to cheerlead-dance before a showing of Magic Mike, seeing the almost English-teacher-level of hugging that was happening in the last few days [2], would change anyone’s mind.

My favorite thing at the conference was the laughter. It didn’t matter if you were going to a session, if you were in a group hanging out in a hotel room, if you were out for dinner, or if you were in the restroom alone — you were always surrounded by laughter. (Okay, maybe not the last one… creepy!) It was the nervous laughter of meeting for the first time, the giddy laughter of realizing the person you were anxious and intimidated about meeting was awesome, the snort-worthy laughter accompanying stories about teaching that only those in the trenches could get, the uncontrollable laughter when we all finally let our hair down and let our true personalities fly…

I’ll end with the collective work of some tweeps:

I sat alone in my class,
Hoping my students would pass,
Prepping was kicking my ass
But help was on the way

I started searching the net,
To find a way to connect
Found teachers I’d never met
and I was on my way

Dan’s blog was poppin’,
G-Reader, feed not stoppin’
Each day, I would drop-in
Guess it’s time for hop in!

Hey, I just found you,
And this is crazy,
But here’s my ID,
So tweet me, maybe?
It’s hard to reach out,
Please don’t flame me,
But here’s my ID,
So tweet me, maybe? x2

Oh holy crap can it be,
Nowak responded to me,
Blogging math celebrity,
She’s twitter royalty

I beg, and borrow and steal
No reinventing the wheel,
What are these urges I feel?
Nerdy math sex appeal

Hal-lo-ween was awesome
Dull worksheets,
I could toss ‘em
My i-deas could blossom
Now it’s time for Math Camp, baby!

Hey, I just met you, all in person.
Twitter Math Camp,
this was the first one
It’s hard to teach right,
in i-so-laaaaaation,
So here’s some PD,
just like va-ca-tion x2

Before I came onto your sites,
I must’ve taught so bad,
I must’ve taught so bad,
I must’ve taught so so bad

Before we came onto your sites
we must’ve taught so bad
and you should know that
It was so, so sad

I loved free pizza, and the brew-ry.
You know my ID,
So tweet me, maybe?
Ci-ty Muse-um, or the Card’s game,
So tweet me sometime,
I won’t be too lame

So, thank you Shelli,
thank you Li-sa.
Don’t want to go home – so glad to meet ya

Now that it’s coming to an end
we’ll miss you so bad
we’ll miss you so bad
I’ll miss you so, so bad

Before you came into our lives
I must’ve taught so bad
And you should know that.
So tweet us, maybe?

[0] Another, prior, conversation.

samjshah i’m jealous, all. can we plan to go to a conference together next yr? maybe we should just plan our OWN small conference abt blogging?

samjshah that last tweet was for everyone at NCTM and everyone else who is JEALOUS of them. im kinda serious about hosting a conference. NYC?

k8nowak @samjshah How about next Wednesday?! j/k. I think some prior coordination to invade a conference would be nice.

SweenWSweens @samjshah I’m in, got such an idea in October, but was waiting for more street cred to suggest it.

SweenWSweens @samjshah @k8nowak I see Kate’s idea and raise October Baltimore NCTM. Also, NYC is prolly too far north for them VA and NC peeps.

CmonMattTHINK @samjshah @k8nowak @SweenWSweens I can just see submitting the PD $ proposal… “Location: various bars in NYC…”

dcox21 @samjshah Thinking the same thing. Think I’d get more from talking to people I already know I respect than from rolling dice on conference.

mctownsley @dcox21 @samjshah what’s the name of this math/blogging/twitter/teaching crew? seems like a good start for a mini-conference

samjshah @dcox21 @CmonMattTHINK @k8nowak @SweenWSweens i know the good ones, just so you know. the right mix of dive and quality craft beers.

SweenWSweens @samjshah @dcox21 @CmonMattThink @k8nowak There’s gotta be bars in NYC that sound like they could be conference venues.

samjshah 1. go to NCTM conference, 2. meetup at nyc bars, 3. hold our own miniconference (designed to be useful), 4. do nothing and let the idea die

cannonsr @SweenWSweens Like the bars called “The library” near university campuses. Totally

jreulbach @samjshah YOu had me at NYC bars…

k8nowak @samjshah et. al. An unconference. Like BarCamp.

jreulbach @k8nowak Bar camp?

samjshah @k8nowak et al. yes. our own format. about interactivity, convos, playing with the web. less about leaders and more about those coming.

k8nowak @jreulbach http://lmgtfy.com/?q=barcamp

samjshah @k8nowak wow, i’ve seen that *in theory* before (see this cool site), but never used in practice. OH SNAP!!! @jreulbach got served!

SweenWSweens @samjshah Sounds like those venues are the start of a sweet summer 2010 “conference” where we could brainstorm about any future ones.

k8nowak @samjshah @jreulbach I feel kind of bad for picking on the noob. Sorry. I’ve been waiting for an excuse to use lmgtfy.

k8nowak @SweenWSweens @samjshah Yes. This calls for a preconference planning conference.

jreulbach I am in for summer. No kiddo or new job conflicts…

jreulbach @samjshah Can’t believe you said OH SNAP!! LMAO.

SweenWSweens @samjshah @k8nowak Any1 else close ? The Internet is so weird, everyone is so spread out. How do the tubes bring things so from so far away?

k8nowak @SweenWSweens Well, see, it’s a SERIES of tubes.

k8nowak @SweenWSweens @samjshah I don’t know who else is near-ish, but we could announce on blogs and see who bites.

CmonMattTHINK @SweenWSweens @samjshah @k8nowak Yeah how does there not exist a Google Map or something with all of our locations on it?

samjshah @k8nowak @CmonMattTHINK here’s our map! enter your info! (unless you tweeted about a map when i was making one) http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?hq=http:%2F%2Fmaps.google.com%2Fhelp%2Fmaps%2Fdirections%2Fbiking%2Fmapplet.kml&ie=UTF8&lci=bike&dirflg=b&hl=en&msa=0&msid=102961433061679876855.000484f12a77524f148fe&ll=40.670125,-73.955283&spn=0.00721,0.01929&z=16

SweenWSweens @samjshah Ugh haytchu, I was literally typing the one I had just made in. You win this round! But watch your back!

samjshah @SweenWSweens *pffffft*

cannonsr @samjshah Loving how this map has 63 views within 10 minutes.

SweenWSweens @samjshah @k8nowak I’m not sure posting on my blog will help, as seen in figure 1-a http://mobile.tweetphoto.com/19648985

dcox21@sweenwsweens @k8nowak @samjshah If you look reeeeeal close… #photocapshttp://twitpic.com/1hwwir

[1] We dropped the cruise part, for some reason (sigh). But we did have a wiki created for our twitter math cruise… I’m being FOR SERIOUS!

[2] Math teachers don’t hug.



  1. >how to disrupt the hidden pedagogical contract that schools have with kids

    Who did that one? Can I read more? (#twitterjealousycamp, but I’ll get over it if I can just get my fix.)

    1. Hi Sue! It was @cheesemonkeysf, so you can ask her about it in more detail. I saw she just put a blogpost up on her talk. This part of the hidden pedagogical contract was just one small part of her talk which resonated most with me, but I think you’d like the whole thing.

      (The crux of this part is to mix up what the math classroom looks like with varying activities of different types … one example is with games and puzzles and competitions … so kids don’t see it as the same as what they have traditionally seen school as.)

      1. I read her post and loved it. I may be disrupting that crappy contract with my WAYK variation this fall. We’ll see.

  2. Thanks for for this amazing summary (I feel like you are in my head AGAIN)! I am bookmarking this for EVERYONE that asks me about the conference, even though they still won’t really understand. And, I still remember being burned by lmgtfy. Of course, I totes loved it. You rock, my dear IRL friend. See you in the portal.

  3. This post was awesome! You’ve once again read my mind but put those thoughts into words that sound so much better than mine would’ve.

    Oh, and I love that K8 pulled the lmgtfy on Julie. :)

  4. Right. i’m insanely jealous! you make it sound so wonderful…oh wait.

    congrats on making this happen and so happy for all of you who got so much out of it.

    tweet me maybe.

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