Saturday, February 16, 2013

My Presentation on the Math Twitterblogosphere

In January, I was asked to present as part of a panel discussion about Twitter Math Camp and the Math Twitterblogosphere. Ann Drobnis, an Einstein Fellow working at the NSF, contacted me asking if I would share what makes our Community of Practice successful. I presented to mostly university professors and NSF personnel who are involved in putting together and facilitating a community of practice for Computer Science teachers who are part of an initiative called CS10K, which is trying to add 10,000 Computer Science teachers by 2015 (I believe it started in 2010). Both Steve Weimar (of the Math Forum) and myself represented parts of the Math Education community, the remaining speakers (Mark Guzdial, Neil Brown, and Shay Pokress) were from various aspects of the Computer Science community. Since Sam asked, here's my presentation:

The link to these slides is found here.

Good morning. My name is Lisa Henry and I teach high school math at Brookfield High School in northeast Ohio. I am also the lead organizer for Twitter Math Camp. Our first Twitter Math Camp was held in St. Louis, Missouri in July, 2012. Twitter Math Camp was a 3 ½ day conference that we put together ourselves. We wanted to get together in person to work through the Exeter Academy math curriculum problems and share what we are doing in our classrooms. Along the way, one of the most powerful professional development experiences for the participants happened and friendships deepened. What happened at Twitter Math Camp didn’t happen overnight. To understand what happened, I’d like to share the journey we have shared.

Around 2008-2009, there were a few math education blogs that existed. The math teachers who were online at the time would blog and comment on each other’s blogs. Conversations were taking place online, but not in real time. The main bloggers at the point included Dan Meyer, Kate Nowak, and Sam Shah. Once Twitter gained prominence, conversations moved from the comment sections in blogs to Twitter. Twitter allowed real-time conversations to happen (and some not-so real time conversations too). Friendships began to develop. For example, on Halloween, 2009, Sean Sweeney changed his twitter avatar to look like Sam Shah’s avatar, and Twittereen was born (see also here and here). After it happened, Sam shared on his blog that blog buddies had become friends. In late 2009, while grading student exams, one of the math teachers tweeted there should be a red stamp for a certain common mistake on her exams. The math teaching community responded enthusiastically, venting about common student errors using the hashtag “need a red stamp.” Eventually, Sam created a t-shirt that several of us purchased with “I only Twitter with Math Teachers” on the front and “#needaredstamp” on the back.

In the Spring and Summer of 2010, the math teacher community became very active on Twitter. Several teachers wanted to learn about Standards Based Grading and began a book chat via Twitter over the summer. It was really during that summer that the math teaching community became very active. There were many new bloggers, including myself, and lots of sharing was happening. Teachers who were using standards based grading in their classrooms were blogging about it and conversations about it happened on Twitter. We started sharing what we were doing in our classes, both via Twitter and blogs. At some point, we even crossed the line to become “Facebook Friends.” I remember it being a big deal – we had been talking about what the difference was between being “tweeps” versus being “Facebook friends” and how “Facebook friends” were “real” friends. Several people “facebook friended” each other and we continued to share more about ourselves.

At some point, it had to be that we meet. Over the years, there had been several “tweetups” – face-to-face meeting of Twitter friends. Mostly these occurred around NCTM or other math conferences or workshops. I met several of my Twitter friends at NCTM in Indianapolis in 2011. Some had attended PCMI together. Others would be traveling and arranging to meet. I think it was late in 2010 that we started talking about planning a “Twitter Cruise” – we’d all go on the same cruise and do math and talk math and visit. We did look into it a little bit and found it would be kind of expensive and figured it would be a bit difficult to get our districts to pay for this kind of professional development. Over Christmas Break 2011, we were talking about what we wanted to do over the summer. I had shared with a fellow math teacher that I wanted to work through the Exeter problem sets over the summer. She said that she wanted to also. A few others chimed in that they would be interested and someone said, “Wouldn’t it be cool to do that in person?” We all agreed and Kristen Fouss organized a Google Form to find out who was interested and where they were. We had about 10-12 who were initially interested and the central location for those who were interested was St. Louis. Once we figured out where we thought would be good to have our gathering, Shelli Temple and I started looking into possible locations. We formed a Facebook group to organize our thoughts on where and when and what we would do. Kristen had suggested a particular weekend in July since the St. Louis Cardinals would be in town and maybe we could all go to a baseball game together. Shelli realized she had a friend who taught at a private school in St. Louis and by early March, 2012, we had a confirmed location for what we dubbed “Twitter Math Camp.”

Others in the math teaching community stepped up to help. Sam Shah offered to put together a website so we would look “official” for anyone who was trying to get professional development money from their schools. His website has now morphed into our current website at, which is hosted by one of our attendees. Elizabeth Statmore offered to put together t-shirts. Registrations were taken via Google Form and Speaker Proposals were submitted via Google Form. When we first started putting this together, I think most of us expected to get about 15 people to show up. We had 37 teachers attend Twitter Math Camp – including teachers who teach in Canada, Jordan, and Argentina, and 19 different states. There were some teachers from the St. Louis area who heard of us who came, but the core group of teachers who had been on Twitter was about 30.

We spent 3 ½ days together. We worked Exeter problems. We shared what we did in our classrooms – both formally and informally. We had an amazing experience – hands down the best professional development I have ever attended or taken part in. I have never attended a professional development session where every person was engaged in every session. We socialized together. 30 math teachers toured the Budweiser Brewery. 20 of us attended a St. Louis Cardinals game, while another group of about 10 went to the City Museum. We ate dinner at Pi Pizzeria. We went to a German restaurant together. We went to the movies together. We spent 3 ½ days talking about teaching, math, our lives and growing as a community. It was hard to leave. After spending time with other people who “get” who you are, heading back to reality was difficult.

We continue to grow. Around the same time Twitter Math Camp happened, Shelli Temple started “Made for Math” – a blogging initiative where math teachers share on their blogs something they have created for their math classroom. It could be an arts-crafty type thing or a worksheet or activity. Pretty much every Monday since July, math teachers have blogged something they use in their classroom life. We started My Favorite Fridays also, where we share something that we use that’s a “favorite” – an outgrowth of one of our Twitter Math Camp sessions. We have a website to welcome math teachers to the “Twitterblogosphere” that was an outgrowth from a session that Sam Shah did at Twitter Math Camp. Megan Hayes-Golding started up the Global Math Department – a weekly meeting on Tuesday nights at 9 pm Eastern where someone or a small group of people share via video and chat about something we are doing in our classrooms or something applicable to math education. These meetings are recorded and archived online at We continue to blog and tweet and share with each other, although not as often as we would like sometimes. But we remain connected. We are looking forward to Twitter Math Camp 2013, which will be at Drexel University in Philadelphia this July. We opened registration December 26th and as of this morning 31 are registered to attend.

Why does this work? Quite simply, we want to be part of this. We have chosen to be on Twitter. We chose to attend Twitter Math Camp. We want to be better teachers. Why do people stay part of this community? The relationships we have developed over the years have kept us together. We have shared with and learned from each other. The best things that I do in my classroom are mostly a result of my interactions on Twitter and blogs. When you have worthwhile interactions, it keeps you coming back. If you don’t get anything out of it, what is the point of coming back? In today’s teacher’s world, that is wasting valuable time. We are taxed with many responsibilities related to our jobs, so if I am going to spend time somewhere, I need to get something out of it. Provide meaningful content and interactions for the participants. Encourage discussion. Make it worth their time. You can’t force people to take part – but make it engaging so that they want to. Many of our teachers teach in situations where they are looking for other input from others who are not in their districts. They may be the only (whatever) teacher or they haven’t gotten anything useful from others in their districts, so they go to the internet. Somehow they ended up at Twitter. Those who stick around are the people who engage others in conversation and get responses that they find useful. They may drop off for a while because life gets busy, but they come back because of the relationships they have developed over time. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks for share..