Twitter Math Camp – A Scalable Model for PD?

I’m finally gettick myself back to “real life” after about 3 weeks on the road, with stops at the Jersey shore, San Diego and Las Vegas. Sandwiched in the middle is the annual professional awesomeness of Twitter Math Camp. Now in its 4th year, TMC has evolved from a small group of online colleagues interested in discussing Exeter problems do a full-blown 4-day conference. Participants take part in the same morning session for each of the 3 days, a structure designed for digging deeper, encouraging conversation beyond the conference time, and developing ideas. In the afternoon, Keynotes by Ilana Horn, Chris Danielson and Fawn Nguyen inspire the crowd before afternoon sessions, which feel similar in structure to traditional conferences.  But with only 225 participants, the difference lies in the intimacy. Conversations easily move to meals and informal evening gatherings. The opportunity to extend the conversation with a speaker after the session hours is welcomed and embraced.

Compare this to the NCTM and ISTE conference models, even down to the regional and state-level conferences (full disclosure: I am programming co-chair of the upcoming Pennsylvania state conference, so I may wind up unintentionally yet, maybe I kinda-sorta mean it bashing myself here….let’s see).  There is a menu of sessions, some keynotes designed to draw folks in, and some planned sessions to wrangle folks together.  And vendors. Lots of vendors. No vendors at TMC…just straight-up PD, with the exception of sessions on Desmos and from folks at Mathalicious which begin to blur the lines between PD and self-promotion, but the mission is certinly not designed to support product. So, how is the TMC model different than the large-scale conferences? Here’s my non-exhaustive list:

  • Morning “themed” sessions at TMC encourage reflection through the week. Participants are expected to stick with their morning sessions and see it through.
  • The size of the conference provides laser-focus on math PD. No getting lost in the sea of 10,000 people in the convention hall.  The speaker you just saw in the last session may be sitting next to you learning along-side in the next session. Deeper conversation takes place at all hours.
  • Participants are encouraged to share out their experiences after the conference. Conversations continue via twitter, blogs and facebook long after the conference ends.
  • Teachers who cannot attend can participate and are welcomed into conversation. Global Math Department this week will feature a menu of speakers from TMC designed to summarize sessions and provide resources for those who missed the conference.  Presenters are encouraged to share resources for all on the conference wiki, and twitter conversations link teachers to teachers.

tmcThe morning session on Desmos I helped facilitate may have been the most powerful PD experience in my career. This is mostly due to the positive, team approach with enthusiasic colleagues who I admire greatly. Glenn Waddell from Reno and I have shared Stats ideas through twitter often, and see each other only now and then at conferences – his blog is a fountain of classroom resources.  Jed Butler has definitely become one of my go-to guys in the last year; his creativity and ability to build something new and meaningful quickly astounds me – check out the Desmos Bank he has developed, and share your works. And I was most excited to work with Michael Fenton. If you have never seen Michael’s Ignite talk – Technology and the Curious Mind – run there now….it’s only 5 minutes…we’ll wait for you… and visit the Reason and Wonder blog to get your feet wet with Desmos challenges. In the months leading up to TMC, we “met” a number of times via Google hangout to discuss what we wanted from our morning session – how do we structure the session for a large, diverse groups of learners. What themes do we want to develop through the conversations? How do we encourage learning to continue after the the conference has ended?  The team facilitation model has encouraged me to think this way as I consider other conference talks – hopefully starting with an ISTE session next summer with Jed.

What’s the future of the traditional “set and get” conference, in a connected world?  It seems that NCTM is starting to feel heat to change its model, as Matt Larson (President-elect of NCTM) attended TMC for a day with the NCTM executive director to soak in the experience, and presented a session in which NCTM’s Professional Learning Strategic Plan was outlined.  Some highlights:

  • NCTM will establish smaller, regional conferences based upon a theme, and replicate.  This sounded a lot to me like the Future Ready regional summit concept which is making the rounds this year – promoting a common message in more intimate gatherings,
  • Teams of professionals will be encouraged to attend and participate. How this works out financially is up in the air.
  • Reflective practice will become a bigger part of the NCTM message. This could mean promoting conversation after a conference through message boards (eh), allowing comments to published articles (I’d like to see this) or twitter/facebook/social media.

But in terms of PD, this exciting announcement leads me to believe NCTM is on the right track:

There are some promising developments here, though a problem of scalability will remain sticky.  TMC works because of its size and the zeal of its participants, and there is no desire to get much bigger. The math teacher twitter community is still small enough that conversations with colleagues from across the country are manageable.  What would happen is even 10% of the math teacher workforce became actively engaged?  It would be a great problem to have – but what gets lost?

Regional, focused conferences also sound great, but also present missed opportunity.  This year’s California TMC was amazing for me, as I had the chance to interact with west-coast math folks who I rarely see (or whom I have never met). Matt Vaudrey, Fawn Ngyuen, John Stevens, Michael Fenton, Peg Cagle….ok…..I’m stopping here….too many names to list. What connections are missed by regionalizing? Does it matter?

There’s a lot here to think about…check out the TMC wiki, find that 1 thing which fits in your classroom, and share it out.  The future of PD seems bright, but how do we manage it? I welcome your thoughts.

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One response to “Twitter Math Camp – A Scalable Model for PD?

  1. In Indiana, many of our schools start end of July or first week in August, so a regional TMC with better timing for Indiana schools would be nice. My students arrived July 30 and I was knee deep in teacher meeting for the week before that.

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