Tuesday, 26 July 2016

TMC 2016: Why Me?

If you are reading this, and you are from the MTBoS (Math Twitter Blog O’ Sphere)? I am very different from you. Granted, everyone is unique no matter what particular groups you happen to associate with, but my differences make me feel a certain disconnect from the MTBoS in particular. And yet at the same time there is a connection, and so that paradox is what we’re about to delve into with my final reflections after “Twitter Math Camp 2016”.

Buckle up, this could be a bumpy ride.


Let’s start with the main reason I feel “very different” within the MTBoS. Namely, I don’t need you.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m better for being a part of the collective, but at TMC so many people were saying “I love this place!” and finding it so different and invigorating - while I was kind of shrugging. To quote from Lisa Henry’s closing speech: “We were looking for the people looking for us ... We were pulled together by passion.” If you were, that's great.

Not in my case.

I am going to use the dangerous analogy of white privilege, that state of being on top of things more due to circumstance and history rather than by personal effort, and apply it to my teaching. Because here’s the thing. I flew down to Minnesota with Alex Overwijk (@AlexOverwijk), Sheri Walker (@SheriWalker72) and Mary Bourassa (@MaryBourassa), who all teach in the same board as me. Also in (or connected to) the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board are: Laura Wheeler (@wheeler_laura) who runs #OttSlowChat, Jimmy Pai (@PaiMath), Bruce McLaurin (@BDMcLaurin), Robin McAteer (@robintg), Nouha Obagi-Fakhouri (@NouhaOAME) and a whole host of other powerful teachers. Oh yeah, and Marian Small (@marian_small), you might have heard of some big ideas from her.

Even right at my SCHOOL, our head of math is JP Brichta (@JPBrichta) who had his computer class doing marble runs last semester, Anne Fitton (@MathFitton) who pulled me out from behind my desk two years ago when I was crying and got me to seek counselling, Denise White (@Mrs_White_Math), and the list goes on. Final shoutout to Kerry Chalmers (@kchalmers) who is now retired but who helped me set up a Google page for my classes way back in 2009.

Followed all them yet? But wait, there’s more. Noteworthy within the OCDSB, we all have one day for local math PD in February (despite the Board’s protests), and then the option for a number of Ontario teachers to travel to the OAME (Ontario Association for Mathematics Education) conference every year. It’s not free, but at least your registration is covered if you present, and often there’s some money to schools for supply teachers.

People at TMC are talking about expansion, and needing local versions of the MTBoS and I’m lifting an eyebrow jotting down, “local is not a typical thing...”. I didn’t even initially join Twitter for education purposes! I joined to try and promote my writing. (How’s that going? Terribly, thanks for asking.)

Again, please don’t get the wrong idea. I have issues with my teaching and question myself too, hopefully as much as the next person. But I have the luxury of practically taking that for granted where I am. Thus I’m only passively searching the MTBoS, and the fact that I’m taking a year off for my own sanity is due to local conversations rather than ones within the MTBoS online community.

That said, it’s perhaps rather arrogant of me to presume I’m in a position of "teaching privilege", so perhaps I should leave that final decision to you, the reader. My point is, if the whole MTBoS structure were to implode tomorrow? I would manage okay. Which feels luckier than some (most?).


So that’s one way I am “different”. Another way is, of course, I’m Canadian. And while after TMC14 I have a somewhat better understanding of what “Algebra2” and “PreCalculus” actually refer to (maybe, kinda), when things get that granular, I don’t feel I have a lot to contribute. And certain specific resources and talks aren’t as useful. To reach for an analogy, everyone is talking about baking croissants, and while I’m also a pastry chef and can maybe recommend some quality ingredients, I’m making bread instead soooo... good luck with the curling into a moon shape thing you guys do?

For reference, the Ontario structure is different from the rest of Canada too. Hell, back when I did my practicum, there was still a Grade 13, so it’s probably good that some of us can network locally up here. So having a different structure is not unique, and in fact I saw a teacher from Scotland make a remark recently about the specific course issue in chats on her blog. But it does add to my disconnect.

If those differences are strike one and strike two, strike three comes from my core. I see mathematics as a precise tool, not a thing to be estimated. Teaching it is not fundamental to who I am, I’m more about generally helping people. And I list “writing” first in my Twitter handle. Because outside of my career, I read, I write, I edit, I curate... I am kind of the Borg (from Star Trek). I adapt whatever’s out there to service me, and if it doesn’t fit for me (3 acts, estimation180, etc) I shunt that to the side. Replacing it instead with open ended probability projects or, as you saw, singing mathematics.

For me, FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is not presently a thing. Having “so many resources and not knowing what to do” is not a thing. Perhaps related, of the six afternoon sessions I went to, HALF of them had less than 10 people there. So mainstream in general may not be my thing, inside the MTBoS or even locally. (That said, two of the remaining three afternoon sessions had many, they were Social Justice sessions.)

Even when people like Sue Van Hattum, Edmund Harriss, and Tracy Zager talk about being “a writer” and/or “an editor”, which IS my thing, I still feel a disconnect because my writing is primarily FICTION. Heck, even when people are all sitting around and writing a song parody together, something I do with my teaching, I feel like I don’t understand their creative process as compared to my own!

To sum up: I don’t need the MTBoS resources, I don’t really understand the MTBoS, and the majority of your interests and pursuits seem very different from my own.

Why did I even go to Twitter Math Camp?


Backstory time. My first TMC in 2013 was not a foregone conclusion. I weighed pros and cons against attending a more local convention instead. In retrospect, I think I ended up going for the same reason most everyone else did - to find like-minded people.

In a sense, I did not find them.

Sure, there were math geeks, but everyone else was keen on resources, and big pedagogy ideas, and interpersonal connections, and I already HAD lots of that stuff. (Well, less so the interpersonal, because huge introvert, but anyway.) What I DIDN’T have was people to talk with about math cartoons and song parodies, which locally is my missing piece. Hence throwing around a lot of business cards to that effect, and getting little response.

Right - if you don’t know me, for the last five years (even before the first “Twitter Math Camp”), my big things have been personified math (I now have over 270 entries) and song parody (I have over 30). I have never, ever, ever figured out how to market the former, especially within the MTBoS. The latter I had already brought forward locally, and to OAME in 2013 (with some response), but when I extended it to TMC13 only one person showed up, and the only time after that people talked to me about it was to maybe present at GlobalMath which never happened.

So that felt like the end of that.

It took TMC14 for me to realize that those discussion connections had even BEEN my goal in 2013, and to further push ahead with the idea that “Comparison Kills”. Which came about in part because by then I had decided I was feeling like the shallow, inadequate version of Ben Orlin (I also do bad drawings), the unknown version of Sean Sweeney (he can get more hits on one video than my entire YouTube channel), the discounted version of SolveMyMaths (their Mr Men Math drawings seemingly pop up everywhere)... and while we all have people we might look up to, TMC14 was when I finally came out with the notion that “validation” from those people or their peers wasn’t necessary to move forwards.

I moved forwards. I quit the MTBoS. And yet I’ve come back, and (obviously) attended TMC 2016. Because even though the MTBoS wasn’t my group, I saw the value in it, and I wanted to do my best to send the message out to others, and the only way I felt I could do that was in being there. I didn’t go for the comics and the parodies, it was largely for the live blogging. The “My Favourite” performance was, in essence, an afterthought.

But there’s a bit more to it. Because to rewind, I did find some like-minded people that first time.

Back then, I was trying to find my place in a fictional, creative, parody world of math - and that is still my quest. (One plagued by false starts.) And others were trying to find their place in the education system, in the learning journey, in their teaching craft - and while to me the destinations seem different, the struggle feels the same. And THAT is where my connection lies.

Hence my feeling of disconnect from the MTBoS in almost every way - my reasons for joining, approaches, goals - but not in the struggle.
"Teachers open the door. You enter by yourself." -Chinese Proverb

So yes, I did make some friends (it’s actually hard to use that word) in that first year, and I did want to see them again this year. And it was those conversations last week, and the ones with new attendees there, that I got the most out of. And given how “people” is a fact echoed in the blogs of others, maybe I’m being more than a bit pretentious by this point by saying I’m so “different”, and could simply use a good smack upside the head... I should wrap this up.


So, I do need the MTBoS. I need it to remind me that everything is a process. To see how issues in education (social justice in particular) are evolving, and need constant attention. To remind myself that no one has all the answers. And for it to occasionally smack me in the head and tell me to stop obsessing over my desperate need for feedback on some of the writing things I do, keep going. Maybe find a writers group.

Does the MTBoS need ME? That’s a bigger question that I can’t answer. I know I don’t speak up that much, and this blog is inconsistent mostly because my focus is elsewhere. I know my niche work doesn’t fulfill any need or want. And I suspect that no one will notice my upcoming break. (Yeah, I need to get away and do more fiction writing, TMC has crammed my head too full professionally again. Bye!) But, since I need it, I’ll likely be back, whether it wants me or not.

Final Takeaways:
 -A number of people seemed to find the recaps helpful, notably Joel Bezaire who seemed to be anticipating them. So my non-fiction writing is still on point.
 -Both John Golden and Max Ray-Riek approached me about my math comic, Jami Danielle liked the FB page, and Justin Aion retweeted my latest. Meanwhile, Sean Sweeney approached me about the song parody. Monday was a good day, creatively.
 -The “My Favourite” cubic formula went over better than it perhaps had any right to given my track record. 36 Twitter notifications within half an hour, what? Thanks for that response.
 -Claims and Warrants should likely be my #1TMCThing, I can see potential for it in my statistics class. Given my time off, not sure when I’ll get to it, but I shouldn’t forget it.
 -Too many other sessions, keynotes and themes to get into, but then that’s what my prior recap posts are for.

Will I be at TMC17? It’s always a bit of a die roll with me. Next year, it will be again. I won’t have the excuse of being away; I may have the excuse of finances, there’s a whole personal life angle I didn’t get into here. Time will tell.

If you were at TMC16, remember to do the survey: http://bit.ly/TMC16survey

And if you did a post, or video, or other, please take a moment to submit to the archive? http://bit.ly/tmc16archive


  1. This American math teacher is extremely happy you attend, and I learn from you every time we meet. Thank you for your thoughts, attention to detail (your summaries are always a first read for me) and friendship.

    1. Thank you for your comment, that actually means lots because I feel there's a bunch that I've taken from our individual encounters as well, so it's reassuring to know it goes both ways. Both in the learning and the friendship. Best!