Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Why do social networks matter in teaching and learning?

Alec Couros asked this question on his blog, and is looking for lots of answers. Here's mine:

Hi Alec,

No time for video. I barely know how, and I'm on vacation. But the networking I do online has changed my life, and I'd love to share.

How the Internet Made Me a Mathematician and an Editor

I've been teaching math at college level for over twenty years (mostly here).
I have a son who was in a 'freeschool' (defunct now)
And I wanted to help out with math there.
So I started reading Living Math Forum, to think about how to teach kids.

On Living Math Forum
I learned about Out of the Labyrinth: Setting Mathematics Free,
by Bob and Ellen Kaplan.
I read it and loved it.
Their website, themathcircle.org,
Mentioned their summer Math Circle Teacher Training Institute.
I went. It was amazing.
I met Kate, Jesse, Ben, Amanda, and a few others (who don't do the online thing).

After following Kate's wonderful blog for a while, I decided to start my own.
I also started connecting locally with math circle folks, like Josh Zucker who runs the Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival,
And Paul Zeitz, who wrote The Art and Craft of Problem Solving.

I also began a monthly math gathering in my home,
Which was videotaped by Jeremy Stuart and Roy Robles
As part of a film on homeschooling they're producing.

If I think of a mathematical problem I'd like to work on,
I know all these people have my back.
When I get stuck,
They'll be there.

I've solved a problem I was stuck on for decades
(And got my solution process published),
And then a problem inspired by the game of Spot It.
(Each pair of cards has exactly one matching picture -
How do they do that?!)
I've explored Pythagorean triples.
I've built a stellated dodecahedron out of Polydrons.

And then there's our book,
Playing With Math:
Stories from Math Circles, Homeschoolers, and Passionate Teachers
I've gathered 35 authors together to share their stories
(Which I mostly found through my internet connections).
Due out this fall.

None of this could have happened even ten years ago.
Math is in my life in a way it never could have been before the internet.
I saw that when I taught linear algebra this year -
I had a blast teaching some hard material,
And I think my students had fun learning it.


  1. What a great journey thus far, Sue. The Internet definitely is my PD of choice. Out of the Labyrinth was the only book I bought at the famous Powell's Bookstore in Portland with a gazillion books. A month later, my superintendent photocopied one whole chapter from the book for me with a note: Have you seen this book? :)

    I didn't know about your Math Salon. What a lovely idea and video. You looked wonderful in it, Sue. And I look forward to reading Playing with Math. I just bought Tanton's Solve This last night since Paul Zeitz recommended it.

    Thank you, Sue.

  2. Thank you, Fawn. I will definitely be using some of your ideas. I've been thinking about getting my calc II students to build up the volume of rotation ideas from a stronger basis, by having them derive the area of a circle. (They like to mix up area and circumference...)

  3. I forgot about the math book, but now I'm remembering a conversation we had about math and story (and how I use the elements of literature with word problems).

    Your blog (along with David Wees and Dan Meyer) shaped my approach to teaching math.

  4. Thank you for letting me know that, John. That means a lot to me.


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