"There is no one way"

Monday, May 18, 2015

Online Collaboration

In 2008, I gave a talk about teacher collaboration at the Asilomar meeting of the California Math Council. It was well attended, and well received, but more than a few attendees told me that they had no one to collaborate with. They were the only math teacher at their school, or the only one teaching certain courses, or their colleagues had zero interest in this. This led me to the conclusion that there was a need for a way for people to collaborate beyond the walls of their school.

As a result, a couple of years later, I launched Escape from the Textbook!, a sharing and collaboration network for math teachers. The group grew to over 400 members, and for a while used both online and in-person structures to stay in touch. To quote myself:
As middle school and high school math teachers, we find that almost every off-book activity we plan is well received by our students and leads to greater interest and motivation. Freeing ourselves from the constraints of set-in-stone curricula allows us to better respond to the realities of our classrooms, to better tackle situations such as heterogeneous classes, and to better implement cooperative and hands-on learning models.
However pressures of coverage, lack of time, external mandates, and isolation from like-minded teachers can undermine our efforts. 
We helped each other "escape from the textbook, whether for a lesson, a unit, or an entire course." We did this by sharing ideas and resources online, and with quarterly meetings in the Bay Area. The meetings took place on Saturday mornings. The basic format was to split the meetings into two sessions: math, and pedagogy. Various of us volunteered to lead the sessions, which pretty much always turned out well, although attendance fluctuated. My three blog posts about one of the meetings will give you an idea of their mathematical and pedagogical flavor. Proving Pick's Theorem, a page on my Web site, was a result of another meeting. In 2011, we held a very successful  Escape from the Textbook! conference, featuring superstar presenters Jo Boaler and Paul Zeitz.

Alas, the group gradually slowed down. The online community has been dormant for a while, and we have not had an in-person meeting in a long time.

Fortunately, there is an online alternative! I recently joined the lively MathTwitterBlogosphere (#MTBoS on Twitter). More info: Welcome | Directory | Search Engine

Escapees, I'll see you there! And maybe eventually we can manage to revive those face-to-face meetings.

--Henri
@hpicciotto on Twitter

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