Saturday, 2 August 2014

Tips for TMC

Observant people may notice that despite my attending two “Twitter Math Camps”, I haven’t actually blogged about personal connections. Encounters, yes. Experiences, yes. But not connections. It’s not my way. I’m not a social person.

That’s something to bear in mind as I present the following tips for future (and past) attendees. In other words, I’ll be approaching this from a very practical perspective. Your mileage may vary. I’ll also be mentioning some of the stuff I’m taking away from TMC 2014, which despite all my prior posting, I haven’t really touched on either.

TMC: This is not an accurate representation.


1) Hook up with someone else. ... Which sounds a bit like dating. Not that kind of “hook up”. I just mean have someone you can personally connect with before you show up at the conference. This could be someone you bring along, or someone you network with through twitter in advance.

The first year I went (TMC13), I knew people through Twitter. I’d even done a Google chat with some of them. But there wasn’t anyone I felt comfortable with, no one I felt I could approach when I felt disconnected. (Hence my remarks last year about Introverts and Conferences.) This year (TMC14), I travelled down from Ottawa with @MaryBourassa, @AlexOverwijk and @SheriWalker72. So when I ended up stuck at the Jenks high school due to a shuttle miscommunication, I felt I could message Alex back at the Glenpool hotel to look into things. My alternative was floundering, feeling like no matter what, I was putting people out, even though I probably wasn’t, and ending up with a really awkward experience. Instead, I got an interesting story. (And a free dinner. Seriously, the people down in Oklahoma are really nice!)

May be easier for certain personality types.

2) Know your particular goal in attending. By which I mean don’t merely HAVE that goal, KNOW it. This is shockingly hard. Or at least it was for me the first time I went. Truthfully, I don’t think I figured out my innermost goal for TMC13 until a couple days ago, meaning over a year after the conference ended.

The goal can be simple. Maybe it’s to meet 3 new people. It can be complex. Maybe it’s to completely redesign some of your lessons. Your goal may even change once you get there, and that’s fine. The problem is the goal can’t be too vague. If it’s just to “learn about TMC” or to “discover new things” - not only will that happen, you will feel INUNDATED to the point where you’ll start feeling lost. Use the goal as your anchor. Be able to walk away feeling like you accomplished what you set out to do, or that you at least moved closer to achieving that goal. The rest becomes fringe benefits.

Warning: Your goal may be hidden, in that you may have a purpose that you’re not admitting to yourself. Try to tease that out into your conscious mind. For TMC13, while I wanted to “find out the deal” (vague!!), some part of me also wanted to talk music and share stories... but I failed to acknowledge it, so I never made much of an effort, so I felt like the conference was lacking for me. For TMC14, my goal was to observe, and to try to act as a bridge between new and old attendees. I feel like I managed that.


1) Assume no one knows what you tweet about. I’m not picking on new people here, what I’m saying is that tweeting about Stats online amid a cacophony of other voices is different than being the main Stats teacher at your school. For, say, the last 5 years. The local broadcast is naturally louder than what appears online, even if for you both outputs are roughly equivalent. Add to that these other problems.

First, people may know your work, but not your face. Some people don’t look like their profile pictures, and some less visual people may not even go by profile pictures as much as handles. Second, people may know who you are, but miss the connection. I’m one of those people - unless someone is ALWAYS tweeting on the same topic, it’s a bit of a math whitewash. You could have been talking math origami to me last month - if it’s out of my short term memory, I’m sorry, don’t count on me realizing. Finally, there’s the fear of mixing people up, particularly if there’s similar sounding names. So a more shy person may suspect, but say nothing. What I’m saying is it never hurts to be up front about these things. I even brought business cards to the first TMC. With all that SAID...

Corollary: Don’t be surprised if some DO make the connection. Some people are just that good at associations. Others may have personally “elevated” you in terms of being a blog they follow, or someone they turn to for advice. All I’m saying here is don’t count on it happening, otherwise there’s a chance you’ll be disappointed.

There's always visual accessories too.

2) Announce your intentions loudly. Ideally not just on twitter. (Some of us have old phones and face high roaming costs in the United States. Just saying.) Honestly, people are really good at this already, so mostly I’m just reinforcing it for new people and jogging the memory of repeat attendees.

The main reason I ended up at a social dinner at TMC13 was because people in the lobby were all like “We’re going to dinner!”. This year, I had a great time with Kathryn, Kathryn and John for a similar reason. I even tried it myself on the Jenks bus, calling out “I’m going to the Aquarium!” and Jamie and Chris were willing to join me on that visit. I also still feel like signup lists are a great thing, which occurred this year for the ‘Melting Pot’; I’m not sure if it was the list or walking over together, but it felt less awkward than some of the social outings from TMC13. Could also be the fact it was the second conference for me.

3) Remember everyone engages differently. We’re educators, so this is kind of obvious. But it’s also easy to miss when you’re among a bunch of people with so many similar interests. Add to it the fact that people may act differently online than they do in person, and I feel it’s worth mentioning.

For instance, one thing Justin’s “Twordle” experiment showed me is that I’m big on jumping in to amplify other opinions or articles, then sitting back and observing. Given my personality, this really isn’t a surprise - I hate taking the lead. I love being in a supporting role. That’s my thing. I have no idea if you understand that mentality. Conversely, others may not speak until spoken to, may engage more for friendship than pedagogy, or may be complete extroverts. I don’t necessarily get that.

I do have some interesting proportions.

So I reiterate that we need to be aware. Again, I think we are, but I also think that we can forget. We may think that the person “everyone knows” is outgoing, or that the person presenting a “My Favourite” is well known, or that the educator standing off to the side is deliberately keeping their distance. That’s not necessarily true.


Reflect. Seriously, that’s the key thing at the end. You can do it on a public blog, or in a private conversation, but don’t keep it all in your head. Decide whether you you achieved that goal I mentioned earlier. If not, why not, and regardless, what your next step might be. Decide who you want to have further conversations with. Let them know. Because once school starts up again, time to do all that stuff is limited.

To that end, here’s my final tally for “WHAT I TAKE FROM TMC14”:

a) Knowledge of United States Curriculum. I’ve never really understood the throughput. After TMC13 I had a better sense of the Statistics, but it’s (regrettably) somewhat isolated. This year, having been to the PreCalculus session by Tina C (@crstn85) and Jim Doherty (@mrdardy), I think I finally get the gist of how the courses are pieced together - and how content can vary between schools. I also appreciate how everyone was open to hearing from me and Nik D (@nik_d_maths) about how our systems differ.

b) Lesson Studies. Seriously, it can be like a mini-TMC in your own district. Talk to @JudithKeeney. Or @wahedhabug (Sadie). Or @AlexOverwijk. Or perhaps @robintg (from my district). Even me. I seem to have picked up an ability to spot certain things ahead of the curve (like serials), so I’m calling this now. Collaborative lesson studies. They’re going to be big. I blogged about it on Day 2.

Here's the "plug" for my serial.
c) Tech Stuff. It’s looking like I’m going to be losing Fathom in the foreseeable future. This sucks, because that software is a sizeable component of how I teach my Stats course. But after the Tech Tools session by @bobloch and a “My Favourites” talking about Stat Key, I feel like there’s some alternative routes I can explore. Because histograms and Excel do not mix.

d) I’m more well known than I give myself credit for. This last one blows my mind more than a little. I grant that I’m not entirely sure WHAT gives me any notoriety (The failed serial? The drawings? The records I keep? The beard? All that?) but there was one afternoon when Shelli (@drinok) asked me how I was enjoying this TMC compared to the last one. Which she’d read about on my blog. Meaning she not only read, but remembered, and now wanted my opinion, when we’d never even met in person before Wednesday. Okay then.

I am trying to own that sort of recognition, except my very nature is to be self-depreciating. (I show my cell phone from 2001 as a badge of honour!) Which makes me wonder if saying “I’m not very good” in some way invalidates someone else’s decision to acknowledge me. Which isn’t something I want to do. Not to mention how it invalidates my own identity to a certain extent. Anyway, I’m still working it out, but this is partly why I wrote the prior post “Who You Are and TMC”.

As to friendships... it’s as I said in the beginning. I don’t get close to people. Call it a personal fear. But you are welcome to approach me! Some memories that stick along those lines are introducing John Scammell (@thescamdog) and John Golden (@mathhombre) on games night, because those kinds of awesome needed to meet. Then there were the various people at meals, and Jamie and Chris joining me at the Aquarium. Add to that Andy Pethan (@rockychat3) at Justin Lanier’s “Speed Dating”, with an interesting story about contact lenses, plus Stats. And chatting with Brian Stockus (@bstokus), my roommate, on the last night about some of the teaching hardships he’d run into. Also, shoutout to Nathan Kraft (@nathankraft1) who was the first tweep I spotted (outside our Ottawa folk) in Chicago, and who was generally great about giving lifts.


A couple thoughts for future TMCs: Perhaps some sort of mixer right after getting registration badges, or right before the first lunch. I heard from some people that arriving to the Wednesday games night later on wasn’t necessarily conducive to meeting people, if they were already engaged in a game and you weren’t sure who they were anyway. Second, if there’s going to be two accommodation venues, an evening shuttle (like on Wed) may be a good idea too. I do not know of anyone who went back to Glenpool at 6pm and felt isolated there, but I can see it happening to me, had I been back at the comfort level I had during TMC13. And... honestly, those are the only things that jump out.

Moving on down the road...

Will I go to TMC15? Well, it happens to be 3 days after my cousin’s wedding. In Germany. So that might be a bit of a trick. No promises.

Should you go to TMC15? If you’ve already been to a TMC, you probably know the answer to that question. If you haven’t, I have one last story for you.

On the shuttle in from Glenpool the last morning of the conference, I heard Anna and Max Ray talking about some sort of math problem. Something about a set of numbers, where some cycled immediately back to themselves, and others cycled elsewhere then back in a “two step” process. I piped up that it sounded kind of like inverses. I soon granted that I had no idea what the heck they were talking about. Max’s response, roughly paraphrased: “That’s what makes talking to you interesting. Your thinking isn’t limited by any constraints.”

Meaning if you think this post just imposed some constraints on you, feel free to ignore the hell out of it.


  1. Nice advice to new and old. Be sure to retweet before tmc15! Although I will say it would be hard to have set goals as a newbie-I just didn't know what to expect and what I could (and couldn't) get out of it.

    1. Thanks - I'll try to remember. I also agree about the goals thing at the outset, though maybe it's not even a "goal" so much as what you want to take away. Which... is also hard. And why I suggested a couple things, like simply "meet someone new". Because I do feel like having that makes it harder to become overwhelmed. I could, of course, be wrong.

  2. Gregory, you are not going to lose Fathom after all! It has been revived and restored for sale (and at very reasonable prices to boot).

    As to your other advice, I agree completely. Having goals at the outset is recommended for every conference, but for TMC is especially vital. So many wonderful people who are willing to share creates overload if you are not sure what you are looking for!

    1. Thanks for the tip! I fear I'll still need to explore other options, as it's unlikely that we have any money (particularly to get software for a single course - I think I'm the only one using Fathom), but good to know. Been meaning to explore the desmos regression more anyway. As to the rest, glad I'm making some sense!

  3. Hi Gregory,

    I don't want to bore everyone, but this year will be my first TMC, though I have been following since 2012. So here is what I am thinking about for goals, interested in your suggestions, tweaks, ideas.
    1) Am I relevant? 28 year teacher, Desmos, Geogebra, but not programmer or digital native
    2) how do I ask relevant questions to write about, and once I find them, how doi manage the paperwork?

    I have always been a hands-on project type teacher, AND, I nowheres near a flipped classroom...


    1. Hello! I hope you enjoy then! Out of curiosity, was it a convenient location this time, or you simply decided to go for it?

      As to your thoughts, the fact that you're wondering as to your relevance means that you are relevant! This is what I've been told, at least. Bonus points for introspection, I suppose. Seriously though, if you look for reinforcement of your insecurities, you'll likely find them, so focus more on reinforcement of other things, like finding people who share your interests and abilities (be they things you're already doing, or a curiosity about same things you're wondering about too). Because that's a better thing to look for. Your second question feels better to me, perhaps because I don't have any immediate thoughts there. (Of course, in a sense it's two questions.) Hopefully you find some people with the same questions, or even answers!

      I think you'll find there's a lot of people who don't do flipped classrooms. Likely also people who enjoy hands-on projects, which is about as far from my comfort zone as you can be. It's not all technology. Goals can change once you get there too. Above all, I hope you enjoy yourself!