Posted by: rdkpickle | 07.24.2012

twitter math camp

It’s kind of hard to explain.

“I sat alone in my class,
Hoping my students would pass,
Prepping was kicking my ass
But help was on the way”

It probably started with a couple of overly specific google searches about teaching math that landed me here or here or here. At first it was just a resource-culling expedition: digging through sites, saving worksheets or activities that I thought I could repurpose for use in my own classes.

“I started searching the net,
To find a way to connect
Found teachers I’d never met
and I was on my way”

It took some time for me to realize that many of these bloggers I kept stumbling across weren’t just posting in isolation – they had carved out a tiny corner of the internet to engage in conversation about what effective teaching of mathematics looked like. I found intelligent, witty, dedicated teachers interested in using others’ ideas and critiques as springboards to quicker growth in their own practice. In these blogs I also read about what teaching math felt like, and I often drew strength from your honesty about struggles or perceived shortcomings – I was not alone.

“Dan’s blog was poppin’,
G-Reader, feed not stoppin’
Each day, I would drop-in
Guess it’s time for me to hop in!”

I started following the conversations that were happening on twitter. Then I became part of those conversations on twitter. Soon, I found that talking to you all was so enmeshed with my experience of planning and teaching that it is hard for me to separate the two. (Found something cool and mathematical? Post it to twitter! Need some creative ideas for a lesson? Ask twitter! Had a wonderful teaching moment, or need some strength and reassurance after a difficult one? Tell twitter!) I also found a home for my slow-cooked thoughts here, on this blog.

“Hal-lo-ween was awesome
Dull worksheets, I could toss ‘em
My i-deas could blossom
Now it’s time for Math Camp, baby!”

I was nervous to meet you all. Friends kept asking me what I was doing this summer and when I mentioned a trip to St. Louis, I struggled to explain exactly what this thing was going to be. It turned out to be absolutely wonderful – without a doubt one of the coolest things I have ever been a part of.

nerdy math sex appeal?

Wednesday evening: @mgolding plays “guess the teacher” as people arrive in the hotel lobby. We go to dinner across the street. @bowmanimal and @cheesemonkeysf make the most of our wait by getting a pretty serious Teavana tour. I sit next to @justagurl24 and @jreulbach at dinner, and I’m mostly super awkward as I’m trying to make conversation. Best moment at dinner was @k8nowak letting us know (with both hands) what she really thinks.

Thursday morning: I’m trying to decide whether I should introduce myself to people or just start talking like I already know them. It was strange to have such a shared sense of intimacy with people I was meeting in person for the first time. After signing in, getting a goody bag and a schedule, and hearing a quick “hello” from @lmhenry9, we broke up into groups to work the Exeter problem sets. In the Math 3 group, @samjshah and I worked side by side – I enjoy the fitting candy bars into boxes problems, as well as the race around the circular track. We have a nice discussion about the stacking sugar cubes in a pyramid problem – what a great way to talk about volume of a pyramid (using summation notation and taking the sum to infinity)! I am chastised by @samjshah for skipping to page 3 where I see some cool looking problems with circles wrapped up tight and a sliced cubes. Sorry, @fouss. Lunch.

Thursday afternoon: We begin the afternoon sessions with “my favorite” and @approx_normal shows us how to make a marshmallow shooter. (I won one! I think this is maybe the first time in my life I have won a random drawing – the wait has been worth it.) @jreulbach talks about her “basics blast” (tracking both accuracy and number of problems attempted) and the idea of creating a magic folder with page protectors so sheets can be reused. @misscalcul8 explains her use of “2 nice things” as a consistent way to keep a positive tone in the classroom. @druinok tells us about the AVID program. @troystein talks about SnagIt and using recorded video instruction as a resource for students. We also discuss having students use technology to record their own explanations of problems – something I would like to try. (I could see it being great for something like verifying trig identities, where the explanation/justification of the steps are the important piece. Would also love to use in Alg 2 Trig Honors to have students describe and justify the behavior of higher order polynomial functions.) Next up, @bowmanimal led us through an interactive presentation on Geogebra. He shared some of the ways he uses Geogebra as a dynamic presentation tool, as a dynamic worksheet for students, for student projects, and to create images for assessments/worksheets. I had some familiarity with Geometer’s Sketchpad, but had never used Geogebra before. Now I’m excited to scour GeogebraTube, and intrigued to try creating google forms with embedded Geogebra applets (I think that was @fouss’s contribution.) During the last session of the day @jreulbach told us all about how she uses foldables in the classroom, and by the end of her presentation I had brainstormed a few topics in my classes where using foldables would be perfect.

Thursday evening: A good number of us were headed to the brewery tour. I rode over with @calcdave and loved talking about Nashville, math, and moving with someone I had been super excited to meet. During the tour, it was pretty comical to see all the math teachers (@mathalicious included) taking pictures of signs or jotting down notes about the mathematical information our guides shared with us. I expect an Anheuser-Busch themed math lesson! We had our 2 free beverages at the end of the tour and I got to chat with the adorable @mathbratt while hanging with @bowmanimal, @calcdave, @samjshah, etc. Afterwards, we had dinner at Pi Pizzeria, where the glasses were a hit. (I have 4 at home already – thanks mom.) I got a chance to talk to @mwmathews and @fouss a bit. Some wonderful anonymous human covered the bill for all of us – THANK YOU.

Friday morning: @SweenWSweens and @calcdave join my group for Exeter problem solving. I embarrassed @SweenWSweens (or maybe myself?) by telling him like 1000 times how my “friend” loves his Slope Rida’ song. We worked on that reallllly long problem about Ghana and the equator and all but as soon as we moved the tables together so we could be a more cohesive group, I got distracted by @k8nowak’s slicing the pentagram problem. We had a nice conversation about the use of factoring sum/difference of cubes and limits to arrive at surface area of a sphere and @calcdave shared a funny mnemonic. Lunch at a Mexican restaurant. (Well, drinks and chips and conversation about whether there is a mathematical way to determine conversational “hot spots” based on the shape of the table/arrangement of humans. We also discussed classroom management techniques and @k8nowak made me want to encourage my colleagues in the math department at FHS to spend more time observing each others’ classes. Lunch was to go.)

Friday afternoon: Photo session! Tweeting picture! @calcdave shares his matrix multiplication trick during “my favorite.” @jacehan premieres his radical game. @cheesemonkeysf talks about appropriating the Occupy Wall Street hand movements for use in her classroom (“popping the tri!”) @mathalicious gives us a “choose your own adventure”-style presentation where the group elects to explore the math behind Javert’s suicide in Les Miserables. (I still contest that he just landed on a boat.) @SweenWSweens and I start getting distracted during the pizza lesson because we are obsessed with exploring how the best $/square inch changes when you apply a coupon to the price of the pizza. Where is that breaking point? We bust out Geogebra and create a quick sketch. We super briefly discuss the star patterns on the US flag, which is only worth mentioning because  @bowmanimal’s tweet “Most patriotic person @ #tmc12: @rdkpickle !!!!!” made me giggle like a kid. (I live in DC, remember? There are a limited number of times you can see the “Star Spangled Banner” exhibit at the Museum of American History without finding other ways to occupy your brain.) Next up, @cheesemonkeysf gave an awesome presentation about intrinsic motivation and creating FLOW in the math classroom, using Dan Pink’s book Drive as a framework for her talk. 3 things really stood out for me here: 1) purpose does not necessarily mean the task/activity has to be real-world functional (sometimes purpose is derived from connecting with the line of thinking: “how was this discovered?” “has it always worked this way?” – which reminded me of the Doxiadis quote Dan linked to a couple of months ago about the story of math.) 2) (externally) creating autonomy in students by disrupting the normal contract of the classroom, i.e. encouraging a flow state in students through the use of different activity structures and 3) (internally) encouraging autonomy, especially with discouraged learners, by creating an alliance between teacher and student and reducing fear/anxiety by normalizing mistakes. In fact, Elizabeth, I think I am going to have to write an entire post digesting all of the good nuggets you gave me to think about. Then @calcdave talked about how to think like a mathematician – which gave me a great framework for talking to students in an authentic way about what engaging in mathematics looks and feels like. I am still trying to figure out how to cultivate these attitudes and draw out these attributes in my students… I think there’s a piece that works from the outside in (the classroom climate that I create) and a piece that works from the inside out (how I recognize unique talents in each of my students and provide a mathematical context for them to use those abilities.) There’s definitely more for me to think about here as well.

Friday evening: I went to the hotel for a bit and had a chance to experience the magic of the “executive lounge” with @samjshah, @bowmanimal, and @aanthonya. I was planning to go to the City Museum with @k8nowak et al but I wasn’t feeling the best and decided I needed a little bit of time to myself (introvert = need to recharge my batteries.) Picnic in the park (manchego + pear + walnuts) while listening to Radiolab remixed and an early night to bed (well… to “floor,” I was sleeping at a friend’s house) and I was reenergized for Saturday.

Saturday morning: This is the day where the Exeter problem set was mostly abandoned because @SweenWSweens, @k8nowak, @calcdave and I couldn’t stop ourselves from tackling interesting puzzle-type problems we gave each other. There was the 4 coin problem (which Sean and I solved), the 8 coin “wine glass” problem (given to me and Kate by Sean, still unsolved), and the 50 coin problem (which I gave to Sean and Kate but turned out not to be as interesting to simulate as I would have hoped.) We also put spheres in the corner of spheres and talked about beautiful green eyes. I took @k8nowak to drop off her car and we discovered a mutual love of songs feat. handclaps. (handclaps, handclaps strike back, handclaps 3) We had Panera for lunch, with discussions of drag musicals, Newsies erotic fan fiction – you know, totally normal conversation.

Saturday afternoon: @maxmathforum led us through an activity where we noticed and wondered. I appreciated his soft-spoken ability to command the room’s attention – and give us time to think. A great model of what it would look like to lead a class through an exploration of this type. @ThinkThankThunk led a session with us via Skype and a googledoc that we wasted no time in defacing with comments, questions, and quips. I still have some growth to do in the feedback/SBG realm. @pamjwilson spoke about the use of formative assessments. Then we broke up into subject areas to share thoughts and resources (and I left with a thumb drive full of things to make my life easier.)

Saturday evening: @bowmanimal taught a few of us how to make sonobe units and we made a stellated octahedron, and then some hyperbolic paraboloids for good measure. (Hangers! Nurses!) We relocated to the hotel, ukulele in tow, and @SweenWSweens began leading us through the collaborative effort of writing lyrics to “Tweet me maybe.” (We must have been quite a sight at the hotel bar making lucky stars from origami strips, drinking, and singing.) @jreulbach (and others) joined for Magic Mike, where Julie showed off her sweet dance moves by teaching the entire theater “the whip.” We ended the evening with a large group of people back at the hotel laughing, chatting, and hanging out like we’d known each other forever. I got to talk to @colinmac10, and displayed impressive navigational skills for 3am.

Sunday morning: We ditched more Exeter time in favor of more “my favorite.” @bowmanimal told us how he uses whiteboards in the classroom to get students talking to each other and correcting mistakes. @colinmac10 showed us Socrative – an awesome website that would be great for exit tickets or even in-class activities (the rocket race was so cool! despite the pranksters who insisted on picking on @gwaddellnvhs) There were other favorites that morning (@lmhenry9 – Diigo, @jrykse – Scribblar, etc.) but I was a little too nervous/distracted to take good notes at this point… because we ended with the world premiere of “Tweet me maybe.” Goodbyes. Lunch. More goodbyes.


“Hey, I just met you, all in person.
Twitter Math Camp, this was the first one
It’s hard to teach right in i-so-laaaaaation,
So here’s some PD, just like va-ca-tion”

I’ve been home for two days now and I still haven’t really processed what I just experienced. I walked away from #tmc12 with a list of things ready to be implemented in my classroom, a (longer) list of things I need to continue to study and explore, new connections with incredible teachers from across the continent, and a completely reenergized attitude about teaching mathematics. I haven’t been able to think about much else.

Thank you all for what you have given me.

It’s kind of hard to explain.


  1. Love it, what a recap. I don’t remember(not joking) if I told people, but I have a terrible memory. This will be a great way to look back fondly, thanks Rachel!

  2. Rachel, I love that you led “Tweet Me Maybe” and posted it! Will that be appearing at the FHS variety show this year? =)

    Mr. HalfFull was obsessed with Jimmy Fallon’s version of that song earlier this summer and gave me an earworm!

  3. Wow, great reflective recap. I am so honored that my talk was meaningful for you! Guess I’m used to being dismissed as the touchy-feely “woo-woo” one, except by my Russian math professors, who encouraged me to see myself as a warrior of mathematical learning. Your post made me think about how important and urgent it is for us to bring ALL of ourselves to our math teaching, including the superficially contradictory. So often, the key to a breakthrough turns out to be the very thing about ourselves we thought we were being pressured to abandon.

    I loved talking with you and doing math with you and wondering with you. Looking forward to years more of it all!

    Elizabeth (aka @cheesemonkeysf on Twitter)

  4. This was a fabulous recap, Rachel. You captured the spirit of camp so perfectly! I wish we’d gotten more of a chance to talk one on one. Perhaps we will need to meet up for lunch the next time I’m in DC. Thanks for this fabulous archive of our shared experience!

    • Any time you are in DC, let me know! I’d love to grab lunch. 🙂

  5. What they said… about the awesomeness of weaving the song in and the great recap. I especially liked the explanation of how you ended up twittering with math teachers in the first place, and hereby nominate it for the front page of @samjshah’s welcome page.

  6. […] Rachel Kernodle […]

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