This was my second year at Twitter Math Camp. In many ways, it was even better than last year, and I’ve figured out what I love so much about going to this conference. I’m going to attempt to put this into words.
Actually, it’s really just one word: conversations.
Through the conversations I participated in, I came home with new mathematical knowledge, in addition to some new teaching knowledge and goals. I’ve never sat around and just played with math before, especially geometry (which, I suspect, is the best content area in which to play). I’ve always had a problem to solve – an end goal to be working toward. Since I typically need that kind of guidance and direction, I was very surprised by my openness to just playing around. I was also surprised by how much time I’ve spent playing with tiling turtles and/or analyzing and discussing them – about 8 hours over the course of two days, and I currently wish they weren’t packed in my suitcase so I could still be playing with them. I can’t wait to show them to other people at home. I can’t wait to bring them to after-school tutoring and leave them out and see what my kids do with them. I hope kids start coming to tutoring just so they can play with my turtles, because that’s worth it.
I love talking to these people. I love talking about teaching, about math, and about everything else. On this trip I spent time with Henri and Edmund, who exposed me to new ways of thinking about things. I spent time with Justin, who it appears might be my new Twitter BFF. I spent time with Megan and Andre and Elizabeth and James and so many more people I can’t even remember now, and each conversation was different, but similar. We all have things in common – we’re here because we love math, we love our students, and we love learning. But we each have different ways of looking at things, different approaches to problems, different viewpoints.
I am glad that I do have a couple of people in my math department at home that I can bounce ideas off, who can give me advice about how to deal with the specific types of problems we have at our school, with our school culture. But stepping into an environment like Twitter Math Camp is an eye-opening experience. At other conferences, I don’t walk up to people and start talking to them. That might be because of me – I usually attend other math teacher conferences with people from my school, so I stick to my comfort zone. But I think there’s also a more relaxed atmosphere at TMC that makes me more comfortable with this. Everyone does it! Everyone just walks up to each other and conversations flow around the room and through groups and it’s so…open. Welcoming. Some of that may be the size of the conference, but I think it’s because we do all interact with each other year-round online. We don’t only see each other once a year and never actually meet or get to know each other. This is the only conference I’ve ever been to with that feeling.
We’ve mentioned a few times that Twitter Math Camp, and the people who make up the #MTBoS are the people we wish were our math department. They become our virtual math department. I really felt that this year. I felt that camaraderie and welcoming-ness (it’s a word now) and inclusivity. Teachers who have been teaching for decades mingle with brand new or preservice teachers, and professional mathematicians mingle with those of us who have never studied math beyond what it took to get certified. There’s no judgment. For me, there were only careful explanations and thoughtful answers to questions (after ignoring my self-deprecating comments about my music degree, which was probably for the best). I have things to ponder in a way that I’ve never pondered before. I also have turtle-withdrawals.
In addition to all this, I noticed something else about TMC versus other math teacher conferences I’ve attended. I think the openness and inclusivity is maybe the defining characteristic of TMC and the #MTBoS, but there’s another huge thing to consider. It’s difficult to notice at first, because it is not the presence of something, but the absence of something:
Not once did I hear, “Well, my kids can’t do that.”
I may be especially sensitive to this because I have toxic members of the faculty at my school who say things like this all the time. I’ve said it, and thought it (fairly recently, if I’m being honest). At TMC, I didn’t hear it. Not even once. Our focus is not on our limitations but on what we can do, and how we can best support our students. We talk about how we can structure our classrooms and our instruction so our students can learn, not about why they can’t. Instead of saying, “My students can’t do that,” we ask, “What do I need to do in order for my students to do that?”
These are the people I need to surround myself with every day. This is the attitude I need to cultivate in order to become a better teacher.