Saturday, August 1, 2015

Twitter Math Camp 2015 #TMC15

All week I've been basking in the glow of Twitter Math Camp, the annual "family reunion" (as @Jstevens009 called it) of math teachers. It's like drinking from the most inspirational loving fire hose of conviction-filled math teachers.

Like many people's recaps, this is mainly a rambling post to summarize my notes and mental intensity from TMC15. It is my attempt to bring my bits of hand written notes into a more cohesive form that may be useful to me or others now and in the future.  Words in red are ideas that I want to try out or learn more about. If any of those resonate to you, I'd love to hear about what you're learning.

My Decision to Attend
Like Julie @jreulbach, I considered not coming to TMC this year. I recently accepted the position of Assistant Head of School at Vermont Commons School. I'll still be teaching a section of calculus, but otherwise my role will be in admin. Would I feel left out at TMC? Would it feel worth my time? Could I justify the expense of traveling to the opposite corner of the country (I just barely lost the "who traveled farthest to TMC15" contest to Sadie @wahedabug from Hawaii)? When I mentioned possibly not coming to our Head of School, he replied "it doesn't matter what it is, if you come back half as excited as you do from Twitter Math Camp, it's good for teaching overall here."

And gosh am I ever glad I decided to attend! Getting to connect with so many people who are so generous--@mrdardy shared his whole textbook with me today!--and so supportive is just invaluable. I live in one of the least populated states in the country--only Wyoming has fewer people than Vermont--at a school with a math department of three teachers.

I went to Philly in 2013 and to Jenks last year, and this one was definitely the best. Although it's the most welcoming group of people, recognizing so many people and being able to catch up with old friends brought the experience to a whole new level. It's so easy to make fast deep connections at TMC. Sean @SweenWSweens and I had fun challenging ourselves to survey every group of people and find folks whose names we didn't know to strike up new conversations.

Traveling there
On the plane on my way to TMC, I did PCMI problems. Some people like to do crossword puzzles or sudokus, but for me doing well-crafted math problem sets is such a treat! It was the perfect way to get excited about TMC. And I even got Darryl Yong to commit to running a PCMI problem set morning session at TMC16.  [If you're interested in doing some of the PCMI 15 problems together in a Google Hangout sometime soon, please send me a note on Twitter @jaz_math.]

Julie, Ashley @ashleystabo, Mary @marybachbrown, and I met in the LAX airport to start our journey to Claremont on the shuttle. The fantastic math conversations started right away as I got some ideas for NC independent schools to check out!

The Sessions

Elizabeth Statmore & Chris Luzniak 
@cheesemonkeysf & @PIspeak
Morning Session--Exploratory Talk

Day 1--Talking Points
Last summer I kept hearing people describe Elizabeth's Talking Points activity as life changing. So, I read everything they created and gave them a try in my calc classroom. This year, I wanted the goods directly, and to have it combined with Math Debate from Chris @PIspeak, I was smitten!

Elizabeth and Chris struck the perfect balance of sharing research, giving guided practice, facilitating excellent discussions, and allowing us to each work on our own interests. We all could have used three more weeks of morning sessions on the topic, but their structure was fantastic!

I have had the sense for ages that group work is incredibly important, and it fits my personality as a teacher well. It was great to hear Elizabeth quote lots of research affirming that the quality of student conversations is the #1 predictor of the effectiveness of group work. I appreciated the idea of thinking of the structure as an anchor, giving freedom to speak, listen and be fully present. The concept of listening as receiving also really resonated for me. The "no comment" structure was hard for me at first, but I think it has a lot of value. I come from a very interrupt-y family and we all seem to get so excited at Twitter Math Camp, it's easy to add our ideas when another is not finished with theirs. Elizabeth said it well when she said "the point isn't to feel bad for your habits, but to notice them and become conscious, to expand our repertoire available for code switching."

During our first day I tweeted out Elizabeth's quote, "if it's worth doing, it's worth doing badly." Which sounds a bit counterintuitive, but the idea being that if something is worthy of our attention, then it should be okay to start doing it poorly in order to improve and to do it well (she used playing scales on an instrument as an example).

Day 1--Debate
Chris starts each day in his classroom with a chant of something the group is working to memorize. I often tell my kids that the strongest math students don't memorize much, but know how to figure anything out from first principles. But, many things are easier when we have some facts that just roll of the tongue.

I enjoyed the "this is my claim and this is my warrant" structure for facilitating debate in class. Asking students why is something I do regularly, and they sometimes get really tired of it. I appreciate that it's built into this structure in a fun and kitschy way.

By adding the words "best/worst, always/sometimes/never, biggest/smallest" to any statement, we can invoke debate. "Which problem has the 'best' mistake?" (Or the sexiest, if you're Chris.)

I had imagined that I would be more drawn to debate than to Talking Points, but I found the opposite to be true, at least on the first day. I'm generally not a very funny or wild teacher. The fear of being cold called in front of the class made it harder for me to think about my ideas. The speed of it all was a bit overwhelming. I often think more quickly than others, but in this setting, I felt somewhat inadequate. As Elizabeth said several times, "oh, your discomfort is interesting..." It was a real pleasure to see the same concepts portrayed in two different ways from Elizabeth and Chris.

Day 2
I appreciated that Elizabeth and Chris started the day focused on our feedback and questions from Day 1. I asked how we summarize talking points as a full class. I was surprised to hear that Elizabeth mostly does not. Instead, she uses the activity as an opportunity to get the juices flowing and to foster deep listening. We learn about listening in one area and it will transfer to all other areas. "It's not spending time, it's investing time" -Elizabeth

At several points, Elizabeth mentioned "Complex Instruction." It's something I have heard people throw around a lot and am curious to learn more about. With a bit of googling, it appears to be related in some way to Jo Boaler. I know she is a superstar in the math teacher world, but I have not yet read her work.

Chris described having sentence starters on all four walls of his classroom so that students would not need to turn to see them. I have never had my own teaching space, so that's not possible for me, but it sounds like an excellent idea!

Day 3
Again, they started by talking about what we did last class. I need to do that more in my teaching. "Last time on..."

Most of our time today was spent working on whatever we wanted to. I started with a couple of others who are no longer in the classroom. It was nice to hear their stories, but I was looking for something more hands on. I listened to Chris's full scale debate ideas for a bit, and then settled in to write some Talking Points for Algebra and Calculus with a couple of groups. The synergy of working simultaneously on a Google Doc is so inspiring! I wonder if I can find ways to do that throughout the year.

Day 1 My Favorites

My favorites is one of my favorite parts of TMC. It's great to hear brief bursts of ideas from folks in the MTBoS. Almost all of them are fascinating (and when they don't seem to resonate for me, the Twitter back channel is always thrumming). This year's My Favorites seemed a bit less welcoming to newer folks than in past years. It might be better to try to keep more of them open before we arrive and have more of the registrations there so that new folks can see what it's all about and choose to present while there (as it has been in past years). I know this happened some on Sunday, but it would be nice to have more.

People doing research on this community
Judy @JudyLarsen3 is doing an ethnography of the math teacher blogging world for her thesis project. Her joyful inquisitive energy is contagious and I feel blessed to have shared some time with her! Get in touch with her if you are willing to talk about your experience of blogging for the benefit of research!

Diana Fesmire @difesmire is also doing some research for her doctoral thesis. She is studying how reflective blogging can improve instruction. Please check out her survey at if you're up for offering her a bit more data!

Varsity Math
Johnathan @rawrdimus shared how he inspired pride in being mathematical.

Wrinkle Sprinkles
Don't Google it, but giving "wrinkle sprinkles" for asking clarifying questions, persistence, and making mistakes that we can all learn from is helpful for us to change our perspective and mindset. From Chris @MathProjects

Lani Horn--Keynote Growing Our Own Practice
We all know that we use social media to support on-going improvement in our practice. Lani studies that. How it happens and what makes it really good!

I like her point that how teachers define problems in education is a predictor for their effectiveness. It sounded a bit like the "glass is half full" idea to me, but more about teacher agency than about positivity directly. When our problem frames are actionable, we are able to work to fix our problems.

Empathic reasoning is the second distinguishing characteristic between good and great teaching. Giving more student voice and perspective and connection is key here.

My school has a strong focus on systems and connections among things, so Lani's focus on Ecological Thinking about teaching resonated with me. We are part of a system and thinking about how all of the pieces fit together is essential, particularly among students, the math and and instruction.

The biggest take home from her talk for me was "We expect our students to share their thinking--we need to hold ourselves to that standard too." This concept, combined with several other conversations throughout the week inspired my #1TMCthing of: "blog periodically (from a place of joy, not obligation) and get on Twitter enough that I can be helpful to others, ok "

Bree Pickford--Using MTBoS to Plan Units
Don't we all have so much stuff we've seen that we wish we could find when we need it? I blogged about my proposed system over two years ago. I still do much of that, but certainly not all or as completely as I'd like to.

Bree defined the process as three-fold...FIND, COLLECT, ORGANIZE, with an eye toward the story of the unit. I appreciated talking with others about how they organize everything they find/read throughout the MTBoS. Everyone has a system that's a bit different.

My session--Using Algebra to Motivate the Geometry Sequence
At least that should have been my title. I had nine wonderful folks attend my session. We had some great conversations about recording topics in geometry to focus on how it derives from algebraic thinking. The coordinate plane is the most logical and biggest initial link.

Day 2 My Favorites
The MTBoS Search Engine
I had heard of this magical machine but had not seen it in action. Maybe my careful organizing will be less needed if this is as good as it sounds! Thank you John! @Jstevens009

New Blogger Intro
Tina @crstn85 (and others) is coordinating the fall New (and returning) Blogger Initiative. If you want to help design it, be a mentor or do other great things, check out This Google Doc.

Math Coloring
Coloring seems to be taking the world by storm, and math-y coloring is the best! Thanks Edmund @gelada for sharing your newest work. Holiday gifts, anyone?

Whiteboard (and everything else) Pouches
Do you ever wish your students could have everything they need right at their desks? Tina @TPalmer207 shared her idea for how to use velcro on shop ticket holders to have a white board, marker, eraser and other materials at each desk.

High Fives
"I don't teach math, I teach people through the subject of math." How can we connect with every kid? Glenn @gwaddellnvhs gives every student (whom he calls a learner) a high-five as they enter the classroom each day. It became a "thing." He's going to try it with college students this fall. Let us know how it goes!

3-D Printing in Math Class
Heather's @heather_kohn 3-D printing project was totally inspiring. Many of us have played with Desmos for drawing pictures to learn about functions and transformations, but going into a third dimension oh lordy!

Rally for Roatan
Chris @MathProjects went to an island off of Honduras this school year and had some excellent photos to share. If you have textbooks or other materials to send down there, please get in touch with him.

Google Classroom
I think we've had it for awhile as we're a Google Apps for Education school, but there hasn't been much push to use it. I also have not been great about getting my materials particularly digital. Thanks for sharing your experience Anna @Borschtwithanna, it was inspiration.

Desoms Activity Builder
So far I've only periodically used Desmos @desmos @eluberoff in class. I really like it and it's super slick, and I'd like to play with it more. I had actually never heard of it before my 2013 TMC experience. I'm not sure that I fully understand the significance of the Activity Builder, but based on people's Tweets calling it a "game changer" I'm sure that given a few months to a year, I'll get it more. I have not generally been an early adopter, but I do like to know what's going on.

Which one Doesn't Belong
The WODB project this year was excellent! I have enjoyed talking about them with my friends children and dipped my toe in with my ninth grade class using Christopher's @Trianglemancsd book. I'm so grateful that Mary @MaryBourassa created a place to store these. It astounds me how quickly this community can see a need for something and just build it!

Christopher Danielson--Keynote Math from the Heart, Not the Textbook
That's Christopher's big message in his Keynote. I love that philosophy. As a homeschooler, I was able to really dig into whatever was interesting to me, and I want to ensure that I continue that ethic in my adult work life.

Like Sam @samjshah said on his TMC15 wrap up post, I'm not sure what my "thing" is. I agree that this community is getting more and more rich with fewer general rock stars, and many more people finding their niche and contributing in their unique ways. At TMC I have presented on coordinate geometry project and connecting Algebra and Geometry. I find these things interesting, but I don't think it's what I "love." When I'm at TMC, what I love is talking to tons of people and picking their brains. I love it being okay to walk up to anyone and to strike up a conversation. As I teach less this year and could easily get into an administrative vortex, I need to remember how much I love connecting with people, loving them and listening to them. I love building community.

As far as math goes, I love doing good problems in community. This past year I went to a couple of the #mathplaydate and #saturdaymathgang gatherings and I would love to get something like that going again. I often feel like I don't have good enough problems or ideas, but I think I could find things that would be worthwhile. I also coach our HS math team, so get to spend an afternoon each month in a room with a bunch of math teachers grading math competitions. Those people seem to also love math. I wonder if I could get some of them together to do problems together. I know there are lots of math circles in other places, but I've never heard of one in Vermont.

There is an orchardist who lives near me who is INCREDIBLY passionate about fruit trees that are cultivated to thrive in the cold Northeast climate. Whenever I cross paths with him, the intensity of his excitement leaves me thinking, "gosh, did I miss my calling? was I supposed to be an orchardist?" Upon thinking more about it, it's not the content of what he does that's so compelling (although regionally adapted trees are pretty cool), it's really the inspiration and passion that I want to replicate. We call it the McKently effect, because his name is Bill McKently. I want to live in such a way that they experience the McKently effect after hearing me talk about teaching math and leading community.

Christopher loves ambiguity. I usually think that I went into math because I dislike ambiguity, but his passion gave me the McKently effect, and I'm excited to think more about the space between ideas. I hope to help students to craft their ideas to sort their own ambiguities.

John Scammell--90 Formative Assessment Strategies
Bringing formative assessment to the forefront of all teachers minds is a focus at our school this year. I like the idea of formative assessment being more a verb than a noun, as an on-going exchange of info between students and teachers about student progress. One of the founders of the word "Formative Assessment," Ruth Sutton wishes she had instead called it "Feedback for Learning." It's risk free and not reported with a focus on improving improvement. John's list of strategies is at He also credited Dylan Wiliam, the author of Embedded Formative Assessment.

I actually found that many of the ideas that John shared did not feel like Formative Assessment to me. At first I pushed against it and wanted to keep asking how each idea could fit into the "formative assessment" category. But, he was giving us 90 ideas in less than 60 minutes, so I listened. When I switched my focus to, "interesting classroom structures and activity ideas" I was better able to take it in.

Robert Kaplinsky--Art of Questioning
I really enjoyed how interactive this session was. Rather than hearing about his ideas, we got to actually try role-plays in small groups. Robert had scenarios that we worked through in groups of three, each person having a chance to be student, teacher and observer. The observer recorded all of the questions asked by the teacher as s/he worked to figure out what the student's misconception was. Thinking about question posing was helpful to me. Because of my background in tutoring, I have had a lot more time to think about this, and it definitely serves me well in the classroom. I appreciated thinking about the difference between probing and leading.

Day 3 My Favorites
My Favorite
Dan @dandersod brought the My Favorite structure to his classroom. He has students give a 2-5 min presentation on their favorite use of math. Wow did students every come up with some excellent ideas!

Warm up using Google Sheets
Denis @MathDenisNJ uses a strategy to implant images into Google Sheets. I got lost in the details, but it seemed like an interesting way to randomly give students a chance to start thinking mathematically at the beginning of class.

Real World Math Collected
Brian @TheMillerMath showed how he has focused on collecting uses of math in the careers of his friends and families. With phones, we can take photos and videos as soon as someone starts to talk about a way that they use math so we can save it to share with students.

Egg-cellent Simulation
Bob @bobloch shared an activity to show probability and randomness (and cracking eggs over your head!).

Common Misconceptions
Matt @stoodle shared a communal document that he started to collect common misconceptions. His idea is to help teachers teaching a prep for the first time to predict some of the typical errors that students make. You can find it at

On-line problem generator
Matt also shared delta, an on-line system to generate lots of problems for homework or general practice.

Julie @jruelbach shared Kahoot, the on-line quiz show that students can participate in. I didn't love the speed component, but others seem to swear by it!

Karim @karimkai shared that Mathalicious has almost finished getting three activities built for each standard. He shared a bunch of interesting graphs. They do excellent work over there!

TMC15 Blog Archive
Glenn @gwaddellnvhs creates a collection each year of blogs that come out of TMC. If you have one to add go to

Fawn Nguyen--Keynote Teacher Woman
This talk is one of the hardest to portray on a 2-D page. Fawn has such an incredible style and personality such that anything I say here just won't get the vibe of her presentation. Through the first two thirds of her talk, she made us laugh over and over, showing the joy of the MTBoS in silly, and sometimes jabbing ways. I kept chuckling, but also didn't feel particularly fulfilled. Then, in the last third, we got the meat of her message. In talking about it with my roommate, I think she did this intentionally, like some authors will set the stage for an event so that we feel a certain way when it happens. We were relaxed and open and smiling and welcoming and then came her big heartfelt emotional piece.

We need to be Fast, Fair, Friendly, Firm and Funny. This really resonated for me. I once went through an exercise of writing my values as a teacher, and loving, fair and challenging were three of my key ones.

I also really appreciated the way that she talked about connecting with colleagues, administrators, parents and students. I was so engaged that I didn't take good notes, but suffice it to say that deep kindness and generosity is the heart of it all, in every relationship.

Matt Vaudrey & John Stevens
@MrVaudrey @JStevens009
What To Do with All this Cool Sh!t
I had expected this session to be more about organizing, but it was really about talking. I really appreciated the prompts that they created and the structure to talk with people for short bursts. I particularly enjoyed the walking conversations and want to see how I can integrate that into my classroom more. Our math department has all of our meetings while walking, but I hadn't ever thought about having students walk while sharing their ideas.

Bob Janes & Dylan Kane & Nicole Hansen
@MrJanesMath @math8_teacher @nleehansen
I have watched PCMI lustfully for years. It's really not in my summer plans anytime soon, given my general life stage, but the problem sets are completely magnificent (thank you Darryl Yong @dyong) and the other parts of the program sound utterly amazing. I'm super excited that there might be a weekend in the Boston area sometime this year. I hope to be able to attend!

And that's all of the sessions I attended!

I would also like to give a shout-out to my roommate, Lisa S. @lisasoltani. Even as an introvert, she processed with me each day when we got "home." It was a joy sharing space with her!


  1. Thanks for taking the time to write such a thorough recap, Jasmine! I felt like I was right back at TMC :) I hope you do find time throughout the year to blog just for you. I can't wait to hear how the jump to administration goes, but if you are falling into an admin vortex, let us know so we can pull you out!


  2. Thanks Heather! Yes, I'm going to work to blog more consistently!

  3. Hey Jas,
    Thee are definitely some overlap in themes from TMC and my Mindfulness class-specifically on story-telling and the ecological-minded (sustainable) classroom.
    Can't wait to talk more!

  4. "We had some great conversations about recording topics in geometry to focus on how it derives from algebraic thinking. The coordinate plane is the most logical and biggest initial link."
    But almost all of school math was developed by the ancient Greeks from a geometrical viewpoint. Of course it all depends on what is meant by algebraic thinking.

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