Journal Of Awesome Things #234

#234: Generations of Edubloggers

This is my third year blogging about teaching. A profoundly cool byproduct of edublogging is that on occasion you get to be the dealer who hooks someone up with her first hit of online expression. Someone reads something you wrote and her response is visceral enough to overcome her online inhibition and comment. And she lives for awhile in various comment boxes around the blogosphere until those confines cramp her too much and she gets a Blogger or WordPress blog of her own.

I haven’t given enough thought to this but, among the blogs I read and wander past, there seems to be a generational effect at work and it freaks me out. I’m not presuming an exact genetic link, where I gave “birth” to blogs that came after mine. I’m referring to timing.

Chris Lehmann’s Practical Theory, for instance, was the first edublog I read. His blog motivated me to turn a private blog public. Jackie Ballarini was one of my earliest commenters who eventually set out to do her own thing. A year after Jackie Ballarini you had Kate Nowak, one of Jackie’s readers, now submitting fine work at f(t). A year after Kate Nowak you have Elissa Miller writing up the new teacher experience at Miss Calculate.

No doubt, all of our decisions to hang out our own shingles were motivated by more than just one graybeard blogger. I have no idea, for instance, where Ian Garrovillas, Sam Shah, and Sean Sweeney fit into in this timeline nor do I have any idea if Twitter accelerates or decelerates this process. But the general effect is clear: people take their education into their own hands which provokes other people later on to do the same thing.

It’s a process that boggles me a little bit, that makes me want to break out into song a little bit, that I recommend wholeheartedly to new teachers who now have the luxury of selecting mentors from all around the world.

Two questions:

  1. Who were you reading before you started blogging? Where were you commenting? How did you get into this? I’m especially curious of people upstream like Chris Lehmann and Christian Long and that Dangerously Irrelevant guy, all of whom basically predate the Internet in my head.
  2. Does this place ever seem to you like Lost island? I swear, sometimes I click around and become aware of an entire other side to this place, blogs that link to none of the blogs I read and vice versa. Bud Hunt has written this one up but he doesn’t explain how any of us ended up on this side of the island or, more importantly, what the four-toed statute means!
I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Dan, you’d be the one I’d probably have to give the most props, too. I read you for a good 18 months before starting my own blog. Shoot, I read you for a good nine before I even commented. I was reading some other stuff that time as well, including:

    Eduwonk (Andrew Rotherham)

    Thoughts on Teaching (Todd Seal)

    Teaching in the 408 (KB)

    Also, I was reading a great deal of the content on EdNews, which i was doing for a good year before I really started reading individual teacher blogs.

    While no blog has birthed InnerEd, these are all writing styles and approaches that I appreciate. Todd’s the one I’ve probably mentioned the most on my own blog.

    And yes, you’ve developed a web around you. I’ve got 1-2 blogs on my RSS feeder that I found just by being curious and clicking on a few links in the comments. For example, I read one called “On the Other Side of the Brain”, which is by a guy who I clicked on out of curiosity in your comment page when he claimed that blogging had little value because you were writing to a vacuum.

  2. The first blog I ever read was actually Sam Shah’s. I started reading blogs when I was a substitute teacher to prepare me for the next year. I liked his blog but knew I would not be teaching calculus and it seemed kind of over my head. From his blog, I found yours but I didn’t like you. :)

    The first (and only) post I read, you came off as condescending and rude so I thought, “I will never read that blog again.” I also found Kate’s blog from Sam’s. I never commented on Sam’s but Kate’s was more my style. I also found Mr. D at which I read and commented on the most. Then I started Twitter and found lots of other blogs, almost too many to choose from. Everyone kept talking about this dy/dan guy and linking to his blog and I thought, “What’s the big deal?” So I read some more of your blog…and more and more and more. I became obsessed and started reading it all the time and looking through all the old stuff and reading every comment and so on. I watched all the videos and downloaded as many lessons as I could. I’m still a stalker.

    I’m not totally sure what made me start my own blog but I’m pretty sure it’s my mantra of ‘Anything you can do, I can do better”. Although that turned out to be false, I love having a place to put my thoughts. And some people actually care and write it back! Reading blogs has seriously changed my whole perception of education, teaching, school, assessment, and learning in general. It frustrates me on a daily basis because I can not adequately give my students what I know they are missing. Which I didn’t know until I started blogging. Thanks for the frustration! I’m kidding but not. The blogs of all you more intelligent, more experienced teachers has created a goal for me to work toward, a pattern to simulate, an image to imitate, and permission to create. And for that, me and my blog thank you!

  3. The first blog I read regularly was yours, Dan. From there I discovered the love of RSS and have been getting feeds of all the people you mentioned for over a year now.

    I have not been blogging as much as I want to this year, but I have been forming some ideas about what Teacher Leadership is and is not. More and more of my ideas of Teacher Leadership centers around what goes on on “this side of the island” as you put it.

  4. Hi Dan,
    Actually yours was the first blog I read. One of Jackie Ballarini’s old colleagues turned me to your blog (probably because Jackie turned him), then I began reading many others. I’ve actually never commented on yours, but did read quite a few posts. I only recently started blogging on my own because I saw how it helped many others become more reflective practitioners as well as share ideas and materials with people around the country. So thank you for the exposure and the ideas. Keep up the good work! :)

  5. This isn’t unique to edublogging: think role models in general. If you’re ever wondering whether female / black CEOs / math teachers matter, *this is why.*

  6. I was on the Yahoo group Living Math Forum, which is mainly homeschooling moms, because I was trying to get a handle on how to teach kids, when all my experience is college level.

    From there I found out about the Kaplan’s math circles, and saw Denise’s blog, Let’s Play Math! I can’t say I was following any blogs regularly until I got set up with Google Reader. Kate got me started with my own blog.

    Now I follow 94 blogs, mostly math teachers.

  7. I felt weird just emailing it so I started a blog so I could post my comedy response to your annual report contest.

    Sort of an inglorious start, but eh, it works.

  8. Don’t really know how I got here. I originally started looking in the blogosphere when I was trying to revamp my assessment style. I think I started with I think it was that I read the most though. I’d say it was Kate’s rubber band ball lesson that really got me hooked on the blogosphere as a place to have my mind blown versus something I just check in to in order to get info.

    As for the Lost thing…this is something I’ve often struggled with. Somehow through you and Kate I ended up with this strange loop (not in a Hofstadter sense) of blogs that all sort of link to each other and generally pat each other’s back. First, I’m a science teacher and would like some really good science ones. Second, we may disagree on minor issues but the overall philosophies are similar. I worry that I’m doing the equivalent of Dick Cheney only watching Fox News.

  9. @Scott, interesting phenomenon there. Christian goes dark and then comes back in from the cold. John Pederson keeps the blog but nukes all the posts. I don’t really understand either impulse but there are probably as many right ways to blog as there are bloggers.

    @JYB, I want to believe that the bloggers on my side of Edublog Island have congregated because “the overall philosophies are similar” and not so much because we indulge each others’ egos.

    Of the thirty nominees for best teacher blog 2008 I had heard of seven. And one was mine. That’s just kinda … weird to me.

  10. It’s not so much that I think the problem is ego indulgence. I’ve seen a lot of examples of what I want to be doing but haven’t been able to pull off yet. It’s definitely nice seeing those ideas put into concrete form. Because we all sort of think the same, I’m worried I’m missing those moments where I’m smacked on the side of the head.

    Example: I was watching Independent Lens “Objectified” last night and the designer in the beginning (Dan Formosa) told a story about how clients give a profile of their average customer. He essentially said he doesn’t care and wants to know about the outliers, the quote is something like “if we understand what the extremes are, the middle will take care of itself.”

    In one fell swoop he was able to clarify my general feelings on educational research and in class instruction. In research we focus too much on the mean and effect size when what we should care about are the extremes. Tell me about the one group that moved forward 2.5 grade levels not the overall .4 effect size.

    In class I don’t know how many times I’ve had meetings with principals/trainers/developers and they tell me to choose 3 kids in the middle and teach directly towards them. What I should be doing is picking the bottom kid and the top kid and taking care of them.

    I worry I’m missing those “you’re doing it wrong” moments.

  11. Yours was the first blog I read, back in 2007-2008. By the end of that year, I decided to start writing.

    I think I’d been introduced to RSS in 2006, but I didn’t start using it effectively until my colleague got me into reading educational blogs. He started blogging shortly after I did (

  12. It’s a process that boggles me a little bit, that makes me want to break out into song a little bit, that I recommend wholeheartedly to new teachers who now have the luxury of selecting mentors from all around the world.

    this is huge – and what we should be offering our students…the luxury of expert tutors from all around the world.

    that way jyb – we’re reaching all of them. not just three in the middle, or some at each end.

    the web is allowing this for the first time ever – in public school.

    thank you all for modeling it.

  13. I started reading around 2004, blogging in 2005. There didn’t seem to be that many education related blogs back then. I think it was Steve Dembo (he was a classroom teacher back then) and Bud Hunt that got me interested in actually writing my own blog. I got a free blog with James Farmer on a crazy new derivative of WP called WPMU. That was so my address was something like – very memorable. It’s long gone now, which sucks (and probably also protects me from some embarrassment).

    It would be really interesting to visualize how these networks work. If people still used blog rolls you could crawl and scrape things to get a pretty decent look at at least a couple of levels down.

    I’m pretty interested in how these networks form, work, and are sustained. The buy in part is also interesting. I see the worth, you see it, lots of other people do but I can’t even get some people to look at this. It strikes them as incredibly stupid and time consuming- which is never a good combination.

  14. I found your blog first, Dan, about a year ago. For awhile there I was pretty much exclusively reading your and Kate’s blogs. Sam’s became one of the big three sometime around when I started my own. Then I became part of the community and I follow a lot more. I actually don’t think I really commented at all. I’m shy. (haha) I started looking because I was part of this technology learning network thing with a bunch of area schools. On it’s own, I wasn’t that impressed with the program, but it got me looking which inevitably was a win.

  15. I started blogging in 2002 and quit in 2005. It was in Russian blogosphere, mostly on early childhood development. And yes, there was one person who not only showed a group of forum mates what blogs are, but also created accounts for them on a then-invitational platform, and subscribed accounts to one another to get people started. So your generation observation holds. Russian blogs and networks are significantly different from English ones in many ways, and back then the differences were even more stark. If I ever get back to blogging, it will be with videos (vlogs).

    Meanwhile, I mostly use wikis and nings for group projects. Blog structure feels too confining for what I want to do with people lately.

  16. I could swear I was reading you, Jackie, Sam, JD2718, Sarah, Dyer, Greene, and Mrs H in my first year of teaching, 05-06. But on second thought it was maybe the following year. And good thing, too, because I was feeling pretty alone, wondering what I was thinking joining the public sector where the job expectations seemed to be along the lines of glorified circus trainer.

    Reading to commenting took many moons. Commenting to writing posts took twice as many, despite very kind encouragement from every quarter, and that I thought I had some things to share. There was a huge Internet Chicken factor to just get over. I was intimidated because I wasn’t prepared to offer anything so different or profound as Dan. Also it took forever to come up with the name f(t). But then once you offer up some of yourself, it’s very reinforcing to find people you respect engaging with your writing. (I want to make an erudite reference to Eric Raymond/Gift Culture here but I’m not up for it…if you’ve read his work you know what I’m saying, and if you haven’t just google him.)

    In turn, to comments and emails looking for encouragement I hope I’ve responded yes, please, join in. We can make as much room in this clubhouse as there are brave souls who get it and want to puff air into their ideas and bat them around.

    I’m not so much distressed by the islands beyond radar range of my edu-archipelago. I know I can’t read every word or follow every link. But when something sufficiently awesome arises, I’m pretty sure I’ll hear about it.

  17. I’ve been reading your blog off and on since I became a math teacher. I’ve looked at different other blogs, but they never stuck. I like the idea of learning through blogging although I don’t do it often – and I do it in Dutch…

    These days I teach programming and development. I’m searching the sphere for teachers in information technology on a high school level, but they seem hard to find really… Maybe someone here can give me some ideas?

  18. Interestingly, I started reading a non-education blog and really like the educational-esque format–it was Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist. It always linked to psychological studies, and as a school psychologist, I enjoyed the factoids.

    I started writing Notes From the School Psychologist ( about 2 years ago and then was introduced to your blog and Teaching in the 408, and various others. I really connected to the writing style of Its Not All Flowers and Sausages and posted most of my comments there. I am not a frequent commenter, but as a blog writer now myself, I comment more because I love when people post their thoughts. (Even the nasty-grams, because it creates dialogue) ;)

  19. Hmm. It all began during my student teaching. I wasn’t getting what I wanted/needed out of my coursework.

    I think I started by reading the math blogs by JD, Dave Marain, Dan Greene, and of course, you. Non-math blogs were Chris Lehmann, Christian Long, and Bud Hunt (among others). It took me quite a while to get up the nerve to leave a comment. And it was months before I began my own blog. I have to credit Bud Hunt with the push to begin my own blog. That push came via Twitter. For me, Twitter was less scary than blogging, so I started there.

    I, like Kate, am not distressed about the blogs about which I don’t yet know. It is nice to (now) think that I don’t know of every math blog out there. I like stumbling upon a new voice and new ideas.

  20. I entered the blogging life by reading Keith Devlin’s monthly posting on the MAA website. I started an RSS to watch him and then one posting, years and years after faithfully reading his article every month, he mentioned other bloggers that were talking about teaching math at a secondary level. That’s where I quickly found all of you and my world exploded.

    I don’t know remember which came first, starting my own blog or reading others work. I had been toying with the idea of just journaling about my teaching to force myself to reflect more on the craft. The two seemed to feed off of each other- the more I read, the more I wanted to write. It’s only been about a year now that I’ve been part of this world and it has fulfilled me professionally in a way that talking with my peers at my school had never been able to do.

    Everything I have gleaned has improved my teaching and I know that I continue to grow by expanding my reading circle and adding to the community as well. I want to run a workshop at my school about blogging, although it would not be about how to incorporate its use into the classroom with the students but would discuss how to find and follow teaching blogs and how to create your own. It’s so important that I think anyone who really cares about teaching should take part in this experience.

    As for the different edublogging circles, there is the idea that the best writing and ideas will make it to the top level and hence be passed around more. At the same time, the mathematician in me is getting excited about this idea and wonders what research has already been about social networks, connectivity and its relationship to blogging circles. Maybe we need to start doing our own research?

  21. Do you think it is benifical for teachers to use blogs? Why or why not? Do you think they can help you with teaching? How?

  22. The first blog I ever read was yours, Dan, about a month ago, when there was a short write up in World magazine. Having just returned to teaching after a child-raising break, I had no idea any of this existed. I am so excited by the things I have learned in the blogosphere that I wake up at night with new ideas! Teaching has changed so much since I was last involved, I feel like I am enrolled in an online university… only with real educators, who have real things to say.

    And I have a blog, because I love the idea of it. My list of blogs I follow is embarrassingly long. I have posted exactly twice. I’m sure someday someone will find it! If not, it is cathartic to have a place to make my thoughts visible.

  23. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I had never read a blog in my life before I started mine. How nervy and pompous is that? Now, I peruse the blogosphere every day, and I’ve learned sooo much. I don’t know how I thought I was ever moving forward in my teaching before I started reading other people’s blogs. The ones I love the most are the ones that discuss pedagogy and collaboration.

    AND…I’m not sure the four toed statue question is nearly as important as finding out why Richard Alpert never ages! Just saw a commercial- Lost starts Feb. 2nd!

  24. As always, I break the algorithm. I blogged for 7-ish years before I became a teacher, and I’ll keep blogging now that I’m not one anymore. I was always confused that teachers even read my stuff, since there was clearly nothing to be learned from my practice (though I suppose there were chuckles and Schadenfreude to be had.)

  25. 1. You, Thoughts on Teaching, Teaching in the 408, Dangerously Irrelevant, The Repairman (Hugh O’Donnell), and HuffEnglish (Dana Swier Huff)

    2. All the time! Sometimes I stumble onto a blog, who knows how, and wonder where the heck it’s been all my life.

  26. I love your description of an individual living within the comments until they feel constricted and finally break out into their own blog. It is a great description of how one might begin blogging, but there are still so many other ways. The motivations for blogging are widespread. Some are aching to get their voice out and turn to the blogosphere for their audience. Still others, as you said, are motivated by others and in turn are contributing to a generational effect, but I doubt it’s very widespread.

    For myself, I first started following blogs that I randomly came across, and I stayed if I found something interesting that kept me. Many times it was the writing. The writing was unique, full of voice, or inspirational. Often times the blogger reinforced my ideas or presented them in a new way. Rarely did I, or still do, read blogs that contradict my own beliefs.

    Blogs can become Lost islands. It would be interesting to investigate how and why blogs and groups of blogs become islands.

  27. I tried to post this comment forever ago but it didn’t go through. So I’m going to try it one more (last) time!

    I started reading your blog at the beginning stages, and had a bit of an educrush on it/you and a few others. I don’t know if it was my very first math teacher blog I read, but it was always the first I went to visit. I loved the idea of talking about on-the-ground-god-to-honest *practice.* I also loved reading about everyday teaching stories. It just got me excited about the possibilities.

    I have a terrible memory but I believe that others that I at that time read included

    Mr. K at Math Stories [],
    3 Standard Deviations from the Left [],
    JD2718 [],
    Dan Greene at The Exponential Curve [],
    Kilian Betlach at Teaching in the 408 [],
    On The Tenure Track []

    So at some point, actually not too long after lurking and commenting, I decided to start my own blog. The month before I started my first day of teaching. I wanted to be brutally honest and chronicle a lot of my everyday thoughts and frustrations, so I kept it private. But the more I kept on engaging with reading everyone else’s stuff, the more I wanted to put some of my thoughts/experiences out there. So I went public — of course only back-publishing the posts that were kosher to share.

    What’s great is that I have chronicled my teaching experience from *before* I entered the classroom until today. I wonder what I will think about what I wrote 5 or 10 years from now.

    I don’t know what generation I would be, but I’m so glad that new blogs seem to be exploding. Of course, that’s going to make it even harder for me to keep up, and soon I’m going to have to make decisions about who to jettison. Sigh. A depressing thought.


  28. I knew what a blog was about 5 years ago and had one that I checked regularly (didn’t know about RSS at the time) but it had nothing to do with education. It was a theology blog. I then joined the blog that was created by a friend along those same lines. Never once considered that a blog could be used as a professional development tool. *idiot*

    When I made the jump to middle school, I had a bunch of tech “aha’s”. Before, my tech questions consisted of “Vis-a-vis or Expo?” But because our school was trying to implement the “new shiny stuff” I had to do a bunch of self teaching. This led me to Richard Byrne’s blog ( From there I learned about GeoGebra and MathCasts ( It turns out that one of the best people to know for learning GeoGebra and the guy who basically created mathcasts are siblings. (Tim Fahlberg and Linda Fahlberg-Stojanovska)

    Anyway, this mathcast/GeoGebra thing got me looking all over for other resources which led me to Classroom 2.0. One day I asked a question about how to engage the advanced student and I was told by Nancy Bosch that maybe I was asking the wrong questions. She suggested that I look up this guy from Santa Cruz who is asking a bunch of good questions too.

    From here I started reading Kate, Jackie, Sam, Nick Herschman and Dan Greene. Noticed a bunch of “Follow me on Twitter” on people’s blogs and thought I’d see what that was all about. One of my first tweets was something like “Trying to figure out how to use this Twitter thing” to which @k8nowak replied “me too.” So I thought, “Ok someone who knows her way around this stuff has questions too.” This led to my blog Questions? and now I’m a complete mess.

    Thanks guys.

    As for the Lost island? Yeah, I wonder if there are ‘others.’ I get the feeling that this is a pretty closed system, though. You follow enough links and you start to recognize the scenery again.

  29. Well, if you’ve ever visited Math Forum, you’d see that there are very strong opinions and fierce arguments about “the math wars”, constructivism versus traditional, etc. I try to include blogs on all sides of that in my list of what I read, because of the book I’m putting together.

    I see myself as leaning toward the reform end of that spectrum, and some of my favorite bloggers definitely lean the other way.

    I think us math teachers are so hungry for these exchanges that we don’t separate ourselves by philosophy so much as folks would in other arenas.

  30. I’m really slow at getting through my reader….

    I’ve been reading math blogs for about a year. Before 1.5 years ago, I had no idea I would be really teaching math (degree in special ed…I could’ve gotten many different kinds of jobs…)…I was *thrilled* when I found your blog, f(t) and samjshah…oh, and Jackie B, too, all around the same time.

    I am a lurker…I read but don’t often comment. I take it all in and then go talk to my colleagues about it (and get funny looks for talking about my *blog friends* again).

    Anyway, thanks to twitter, I recently started a teaching blog myself, but haven’t gotten it too far off the ground. I credit you all for the name of my blog as well as the courage to start it.

    I’m always shocked when I find a new blog, but I know I shouldn’t be. There are so many teachers out there, there is boung to be good blogging, right?

  31. I’m still a newbie to this whole new world and still really excited to meet new bloggers everywhere! After 6 yrs of teaching, I realize I’ve been in a vacuum of collaboration at our school and so I’m still indulging in all these ideas and creativity everywhere!!

    I’m humbled and excited when I read through all these. My friend whom I speak at conferences with actually sat in on your Asilomar session this year. Kinda cool actually.

    I normally blog, but I had never thought to blog about teaching until recently. Now, I feel like a little girl trying to get into the big league of edubloggers.