#TMC18: tweet at me now

Last week I travelled to Cleveland, Ohio for Twitter Math(s) Camp. If you’ve just raised an eyebrow (Twitter? Math? Camp?), let me explain. There is a global community of maths educators1 who communicate via Twitter and blogs and so use the nickname Math Twitter Blogosphere (#MTBoS). Since 2012, the community has organised an annual four-day conference, in the North American summer break, as a chance to get together, learn from each other in person, and recharge for the next school year.

As is customary, in the last few days there has been a flurry of reflective blog posts. (Eventually they’ll be linked here on the TMC website.) I’ve been reluctant to write one, and not just because it feels like I’ve been too busy since I got home to even breathe.2 Without wishing to sound overly sentimental, #TMC18 feels like a perfect memory that I’ll spoil if I try to capture it in words. I also don’t want to single out any moments for fear that I’ll forget to mention someone.

And, to be honest, I don’t go to conferences for the talks (as fabulous as they were). I go to conferences for the people and for the conversations that happen outside of the conference program. And my goodness, TMC has so many opportunities for those conversations, thanks to the careful design by the organisers. There is something special about meeting someone in real life after chatting online, sometime for years—the conversation naturally picks up from where it left off, irrespective of the medium. (It’s also fun to find out if someone sounds just like or nothing like you imagined!)

Perhaps more surprisingly, there is also something special about meeting someone at TMC who you haven’t yet interacted with online. Members of the #MTBoS community have a shared enthusiasm for maths in many forms, and so it is easy to strike up a conversation about teaching maths, playing with maths, making beautiful mathematical art, or any other variant. I knew the #TMC18 crowd would be my kind of people, I was just delighted at how quickly they felt like my kind of people.

During TMC18, there was some talk about what makes the MTBoS feel different to NCTM (the North American mathematics education organisation with more than 60,000 members), and TMC (limited to ~200 attendees) different to the NCTM Annual Conference (with thousands in attendance). There are, of course, some obvious differences (size, financial imperatives, charter, …) but I think it comes down to this. With a large organisation, you start by payingto be a member and so it’s easy, subconsciously or otherwise, to automatically seek to get something in return. With the MTBoS, you start by receiving—good ideas, encouragement, friendship—and so you automatically seek to give back by contributing whatever you can. The generosity and warmth of the MTBoS community is remarkable.

In this kind of community it is easy to feel like an imposter. (This was a theme of Friday’s keynote.) To this I offer two thoughts. First, we tend to compare the inside of ourselves with the outside of others. Second, we all suck sometimes. With courage, sharing the failures also contributes to the community. Seeing that others are also imperfect helps to alleviate imposter syndrome. I wrote a little more about it here, and am reminded to use the hashtag #lessonfail more. (Because I know I’ve missed plenty of opportunities in the last year to do so!)

Social media is often derided as either frivolous or a hellscape. Mostly, it is what you make it4. It’s fair to say that the #MTBoS has invigorated and enhanced my teaching in ways I’d not thought possible. So, if you are waiting for an invitation to join in, here it is: in the words of the TMC18 song, ‘Tweet at me now!’. I’d love to talk with you.

[1] I’m not going to get into the whole ‘teacher’ versus ‘educator’ debate except to say that not everyone in the #MTBoS is a teacher, and educator feels a little more inclusive. Or maybe we could just dispense with labels and say ‘people’.
[2] Our semester started while I was winging my way back to Adelaide. I didn’t even teach my first two classes. Shhh…
[3] Sometimes a lot. The NCTM conference? Well out of the price range of most everyday classroom teachers.
[4] Admittedly, it might require steady use of mute and block.

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