## #TMC13 – ComicCon for Math Geeks

July 31, 2013

This morning, as I finished unpacking from my trip to Philadelphia, I though about why the atmosphere of the Twitter Math Camp felt so familiar to me, and then it hit me–La Femme Nikita!

Here’s the deal: back in 1997, USA Network had an original drama called La Femme Nikita, based on the French movie of the same name (which was made into a movie called Point of No Return), and I was a big fan of the show almost from the start. I was working as a programmer, so while I was waiting for some code to run one night, I happened to search for LFN on Yahoo. There weren’t all the websites we’re used to seeing now, but I got involved in one of the mailing lists, which led me to a couple of the fan websites, and eventually led to my inviting fourteen perfect strangers over to my house for an LFN get-together and slumber party in 1998. I had never met these people in person, but because I had been chatting with them on message boards for almost a year, I knew them. We got together several more times during the run of the TV show, and I made lasting friendships out of that group.

That’s what TMC13 reminded me of. I had never met Julie, Sam, Hedge, etc., but I knew them. (The parallels were especially funny when I thought about Eli’s presentation on Desmos–we were a total bunch of fangirls/boys.) A lot of people out there–even nowadays–may not get that you can be friends with someone you’ve never met in person or spoken to, but if you have a bunch of people who share a passion for something, it’s pretty easy to form lasting bonds.

Thursday
I debated between going to the Geometry session or the PCMI session. I will be teaching Geometry and Pre-AP (Honors) Geometry next year, but I’m also going to be orienting the class around problem solving. In the end, I decided to be self-indulgent and go to the PCMI sessions so I could play with math. Kate and Elizabeth did a great job of creating a logical flow to the questions–we would get hung up on why something was working the way it was, and they would gently nudge us to keep going. Low and behold, the answer to the “why” was part of answering a later question. Very cool. We had some really rich discussions, and it was so much fun to be with people like Jasmine, Justine, and Dan, who pushed us to look at the underlying goodness in these problems (Google Spreadsheet is our friend). I haven’t taught (or even played with) sequences in many years, so this was a lot of fun to see the relationships between a recursive sequence and an exponential sequence.

After lunch, we had the wonderful session by Max on noticing and wondering. Serendipitously, I then went to Glenn’s session on Problem Posing in Mathematics. He recommended the book The Art of Problem Posing by Stephen Brown. Using ideas from this book, he then had us look at the Meatball problem that Dan Meyer had sent out for a makeover. A good process for taking a problem to a richer level is to (1) List all of the attributes of the problem (“What do you notice?”), and then (2) Choose an attribute and ask “What-if-not?” (“What do you wonder?”). A third level would then be to generalize the problem. Glenn showed that not only would this work for a regular word problem, but we could use the same techniques to make a problem like $x^2+6x+5=0$ into a much richer problem.

For the last session of the day, I attended Jamie and Ashli’s discussion of ways to manage SBG workflow. My school is kind of a Google hybrid (all of the students are assigned google accounts, but we don’t use gmail as our email system), so I’m not sure how much of Jamie’s tips I will be able to use. I am inspired to play around with some of the new gmail features that I automatically turned off (tabs, etc.) to see what they can do, and I really liked his use of scripts to handle responding to student requests. I also found the subsequent discussion on SBG itself really informative.

Friday
I stayed with the PCMI session, which was just as fabulous as the day before. Part of me was disappointed that Elizabeth and Kate stopped us to do a debrief, and part of me realized that if I really wanted to get something practical out of this session, I needed to think about ways to relate what we were doing to my students’ experiences in my classroom. With that in mind, I really appreciated the teachers who were willing to speak out and say that they were lost a good deal of the time. We had some great discussion on how much struggle is too much, and ways to encourage our students to persevere. Justin shared that he oftens lets his students decide whether to work in groups or solo, which I thought was a great idea.

During the “My Favorites” session after lunch, David Wees had a couple of great points about student questions. First, he recommended that we give all students thinking time by forcing them to wait before giving us the answer. Then, he categorized the questions students asked into three categories: (1) Stop thinking (“Is this right?”), (2) Proximity, and (3) Starting Thinking. We should avoid answering the first two. I liked his responding question for “Is this right?”: “What have you done to check your answer?”

Also during the “My Favotires”, April presented her “Trig Murder Mystery” packet. I wasn’t able to snag a copy (I plan to grab it from the wiki), but I really liked the way she combined trig practice and logic practice.

Mathalicious gave us a couple of great activities, one light-hearted (“Datelines”) on linear functions and inequalities and one more serious (“PRISN”) using statitistics and Venn diagrams. Very cool.

For the first afternoon session, I went to Elizabeth’s session on adding stickiness. She recommended a book by Chip and Dan Heath called Made to Stick, and talked about ways to make our tasks appeal to more of our senses. We then played a game that made us brainstorm different ways to add stickiness to our areas of interest. One that I especially liked was forcing us to solve a problem using our non-dominant hand.

For the final afternoon session, I went to Tina’s (et al) session on organizing. There were some good suggestions for digital tools (Simplenote, Evernote, LiveBinders) and some general organizing tips both digital and paper.

Saturday
For the first morning session, I went to Megan’s interactive notebook workshop. Since I consider myself an experienced INB person, I went with the experienced group to talk about the various pros and cons, as well as what has worked for us and what has not.

I had played with Desmos before, but I have not really done much with it, so I was very impressed by what Eli Luberoff shared with us after lunch. I also thought it was cute how excited he was about our excitement. For the second afternoon session, I was supposed to present my “Copernican Mathematics” problem, but I only had one attendee (Yay, @mathtans!). I wasn’t completely surprised because I realized that I hadn’t done a very good job of explaining why I thought this would be a good session for TMC. This session was still useful to me because as I worked through the problems with Greg I realized that I needed a little more scaffolding when I give it to my students.

For the final session, I sat in on the SBG discussion that Jasmine led. I got some good ideas out of it, including Bowman Dickson’s prezi (which I had forgotten about) on how to explain SBG, and the idea of using projects to combine several standards together.

Sunday
For the final “My Favorites” session, there was a lot of interesting material shared. I learned about geogebratube.org (and Jennifer Silverman’s great work there), Google Voice, and MathPickle.com. I shared how wonderful GradeCam is for handling multiple-choice assessments.

For the finale, we had the traditional (if you do something two years in a row, it’s a tradition) TMC song. This year’s song was “Tik Tok TMC” (which now will not stop going through my head). It was a great ending to a truly wonderful four days. As the song says, we learned more in 4 days than in 4 years of college.

Countdown to #TMC14!!