Tuesday, 12 March 2013

TMC Math vs CB Geeking

The title is effectively Twitter Math Camp versus ConBravo. Here's why there's a conflict at all:
-Twitter Math Camp. Thu July 25-July 28, 2013. Philadelphia, PA. USA.
-ConBravo! Fri July 26-July 28, 2013. Hamilton, ON. Canada.


So... what am I doing in late July? Seems like a Pro and Con list is in order, so that's what I'm doing, with the hope that some of you out there (like math Tweeps and Facebook friends) can offer me your input and insights. Let's get the preliminaries out of the way first, so you know about each:

1) Twitter Math Camp started in 2012. It's math educators coming together to talk math. I've never been. So on the one hand, it would be good to try something new, but on the other, I'm not sure it's my thing.

2) ConBravo! started in 2010. It's geek fandom coming together to talk hobbies. I went last year. So on the one hand, I know I'm liable to enjoy it, but on the other, I suspect the offerings will be similar to 2012.

Let's break it down.



1) Distance
Not huge, but it IS crossing the border, and going to an unfamiliar city where I don't know anyone. For four days. Which all costs money. So yeah.

2) Unfamiliar curriculum
Math is universal, yet whenever tweeps start talking CCS and Algebra 1/Algebra 2, my first instinct is one of two reactions. Either "The heck?" or "Guess I'll be over here", neither of which seem helpful at entering rational dialogue if I hear it in person.

3) My personality
I'm not the most social person. I sometimes feel that I go out with friends a couple times a week in part so that I'm not spending my entire life at home, either writing, marking papers, or telling my wife how wonderful she is. It's not that I don't play well with others, it's that I rarely initiate. So hearing about all the wonderful conversations from TMC12 makes me nervous. I also pun a lot, and I don't like beer. I don't know if that's relevant.

4) My technology
My cell phone is now 10 years old, and rarely on. I have no plans to upgrade, in part because I don't want to be one of those people who's all about having the latest app (and I know there's a very real possibility it will happen if I do). I have enough on my plate right now, thanks. So I won't exactly fit in with people who LiveTweet conferences, or even who text.

5) My teaching style
And this is going to need a couple paragraphs. First, about what's trending: For technology, see (4) above, though I do teach on a SmartBoard and post to a class website. I'm on board with standards based grading. I use it, but I suck at marking it, as I've stated previously. I'm also on board with activity based learning. Except I don't use it. I can't handle it. I don't work well in groups, or in the type of chaotic environment that involves using real life data, along with hundreds of theories surrounding a three act problem. (I may well be able to participate, but for those times when I have led these things in class, it's made me faintly queasy. I need more time.)

So what do I bring to the table? I'm very good at explaining things, even if it involves twisting the maths a bit. ("Positive exponent means multiply. Negative exponent means divide." Except we shouldn't teach tricks.) I'm very good at rewriting pop music to have more maths, as a way of engaging the students and getting them to remember vocabulary. (Except memorizing is bad, we're supposed to strive for understanding.) And I write a webcomic series where all of the parent functions have their own avatar. ("When you pull on the bunny ears, the parabola gets thinner.")

In short, I'm very good at doing those things that teachers are not necessarily supposed to be doing in this day and age. But THAT'S what I'm good at, so I'm not about to stop; in fact, I recently presented Musical Mathematics at a local PD.

All this to say there's the very real possibility that I spend a fair bit to travel a great distance only to be the oddball Canadian that causes otherwise interesting or productive conversations to become uncomfortable.


1) Expanding Math Horizons
Kind of the counterpoint to (2) above, I do want to know more about how mathematics is taught elsewhere, and this would certainly provide an opportunity, as well as the chance to network in person. And do maths, and learn about how others do maths. All of which is liable to help me become a better educator, assuming the government doesn't manage to completely turn me off of the profession.

2) Not the only Canadian there
At least, there were Canadians at the last one, unless I'm whiffing completely at interpreting the "3 countries" involved. So there's a chance someone will know what I'm talking about when I say "MDM 4U". Plus those others can show what a more typical Canadian is actually like, as I hang around in the background.

3) Chance to plug Taylor's Polynomials
I know there's an audience of more than 20 people for this thing, it must be that I'm advertising in all the wrong places. Maybe someone there can at least direct me to the right places. Plus I have all these business cards about "Series 3" to get rid of, as they're becoming dated.

4) Location
There are more sights to see in Philadelphia than in Hamilton, if it doesn't look like the gathering is panning out. Admittedly, I'd prefer to do sightseeing with my wife rather than solo.



1) Anime Retread
I'll be at Anime North in May (unless something goes wildly wrong) for the 17th straight year. So I can get my anime fix there, along with possibly any commissions, but see PRO(2) below. Given that, and ConBravo last year, I can't escape a bit of the "been there, done that" feeling.

2) Age Gap
If anything, I think I'm on the fringes of the target demographic. I haven't actually seen a lot of recent pop culture things, and tend to be more interested in the careers of the guests themselves as opposed to what they're actually working on or reviewing. So I likely won't get as much out of it.

1) Guests
Notably a bunch of the Channel Awesome crew, with (I suspect) more to be announced after the early bird cutoff date. Granted, I don't think they can top that I met Linkara last year, but these are people who get paid for doing what they love (full or part time), having basically made a career out of their interests, which is awesome. I love learning more about that sort of person, and seeing what they've got planned.

2) Small venue
At least in comparison to Anime North, where you don't know which of 100 different artists to talk to. I had the image of Para there commissioned last year at CA!, and it would be nice to add to the set. Having fewer attendees also means a slightly bigger chance of being able to get into key panels, and ask questions of the guests (see (1), above).

3) My personality
It was a Con for TMC, I see it as a Pro here. I can do a lot of sitting on the sidelines and just watching things, which I feel I'm much better at doing than actually participating. There's also something to be said for the familiar environment of a Convention, where I find I do a good job at scheduling myself randomly through a day.

4) My Wife Could Join
She works in software, but could take a half day and a weekend to come along with me (as she does with Anime North). Two days off and all the way to Philadelphia, not so much.


So there it is in a nutshell. Looking strictly at numbers, it might seem like the latter is the winner... but we go by qualitative analysis these days, not quantitative. I think I need further input before the final decision. So, those of you reading, see any point of comparison that I've missed? Please let me know.


  1. I'm hoping on attending the Twitter Math camp. My suspicion is that the shelf-life of the Twitter Math camp is a little less than the Anime convention because it is organized by volunteers, and based on a much smaller community, so one thing to consider when deciding which activity to attend is: "There may not be another Twitter Mathcamp after this one."

    I like the detailed analysis. I would consider assigning point values to your pros and cons.

  2. It looks like ConBravo is also run by volunteers, but the Twitter Mathcamp is young and might not survive on its own. (TBH, the Mathcamp sounds like it grew from a regular happening.) I'll bravely suggest checking out the Mathcamp - it's different enough and Philadelphia does have places of interest in case things don't go as expected.

    And I wouldn't say telling your wife that she's wonderful over and over is a bad thing. :)

  3. First, even if there are other Canadians at TMC they may not know what MDM4U is... that's Ontario only!
    Although I wasn't at TMC, I've worked with several of the folks -- you'll find a supportive community there independent of technology or pedagogical approach. Sure, they'll talk about this topic being in AlgebraI or Geometry (they love their Geometry), but if you're doing the PCMI problems, it's math, and math only.
    There may not be a TMC next year (who knows) but there will be something good arising from the energy of the people involved.
    So, yes... this is a vote for TMC.

  4. David - Thanks, I hadn't considered that. In fact, even if the gathering persists in some form, Twitter may be obsolete in five years. Though conventions can also fold (I should know, I've assisted with one).

    Scott - Thanks, appreciate having a non-math teacher perspective! Hadn't been sure which way you'd lean.

    Cal - Yeah, that's why I still figure only 'a chance'. ^_- Thanks also, I was hoping someone would have a slightly more insider view.

    Part of the reason for the post was, I think, to see if any Twitter or G+ teachers were enthused enough to comment on the blog of a relative unknown. And part of the detailed analysis stems from the fact that I realized a lot of my doubts connected to how I teach, which seemed like something I should blog about. I'm going to mull it over a bit longer, if anyone else wants to chime in, but I'm now leaning towards the maths...

  5. Let me chime in in favor of TMC. I went last year and it was amazing. Yes, there were some Canadians and we did a lot of social interacting, but there were also so many neat opportunities to learn from each other. We did some subject-area break outs, but there was no "requirement" on what to discuss. Topics naturally arose and went every different way possible.

    I'm excited that it's getting bigger this year... that just means more people to learn from! And more fun to be had. But again, nothing forced if you're not up for it.

    Don't know if that helps, but I thought I'd give it a shot. :)

    Kristen (@Fouss)

    1. Every little bit helps, thanks! :) I don't feel forced either way, I just know I'm something of an acquired taste, not to mention introverted, thus might be seen as weird or antisocial. Though I also tend to overanalyze.