An Incomplete History Of The Math Edublogosphere

I'd love for @ddmeyer to write a history of the math teacher blogosphere. He's been around since the very beginning. Dan, will you do it?

I don’t know much about history (” … and Nowak begat Townsley, father of Cornally … “) but here are a couple of observations from a few years of watching math edubloggers come and go.

There are a few crude but useful ways to categorize math edubloggers. Some stay. Others quit. Some blog regularly. Others blog sporadically. Some bloggers construct posts while they’re teaching. Others construct posts after they’ve taught. The first two are fairly obvious, I suppose. The last one is the most interesting to me. You’ll find bloggers who include photos, student work, and other classroom artifacts in their posts as a matter of routine. These bloggers were developing those blog posts – maybe consciously, maybe subconsciously – at the same time they were developing those lesson plans.

Speaking personally, I realized one day that without intending to I had developed a critical community around my blog, a group of people who were willing to save me from my own lousy classroom design choices. They got better at giving criticism and I got better at receiving it. I also got better at posting the kind of rich, multimedia artifacts of classroom practice – photos, videos, handouts, etc. – that facilitated that criticism. I started to plan lessons while wondering at the same time, “What about this is gonna be worth sharing?” Lesson planning and blogging became hopelessly and wonderfully tangled up.

There are generations of math education bloggers that stick together in fascinating ways. Perhaps it goes without saying that math edubloggers start by reading blogs, then commenting on blogs they read, then writing their own blogs. (Not unlike every other kind of blogger, I suppose.) It’s interesting for me to lurk around, though, and see where the new bloggers are commenting. Totally anecdotally, new bloggers seem to interact primarily with a) bloggers who started blogging in their same generation and b) bloggers who started blogging in the previous generation. Confusing? Andrew Stadel and Fawn Nguyen both started blogging about math education at about the same time. They both provoke and encourage each other on their blogs. I also see them interact with Christopher Danielson who started blogging a little over a year earlier. Meanwhile, they comment less often on this blog because, I dunno, I’m some kind of old timer and they’re ageist or something. Basically: new bloggers find community at their own level of experience and they find mentors one limb above them in the math education blogging family tree.

Those are my only observations that aren’t completely obvious. It’s a weird community that is always hungry for personality and wisdom, that occasionally collaborates and supports itself in spectacular ways that knock the wind out of me.

Your summer assignment: jump in.

2012 Jun 18. Matt Townsley has a Google survey which may help us construct a family tree. I added my details. Feel free to pitch in.

2012 Jun 19. And the results of that survey. What does it mean?

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. I think my summer assignment is reading all of the posts I’ve starred in Google Reader and on Twitter. If I’m really good, I’ll write down my thoughts. Then again, there may not be enough time before classes start again for that to work out…

  2. Aaron Carpenter

    June 18, 2012 - 5:05 pm -

    I first found dy/dan close to two years ago right before the start of a school year. I don’t remember what particular Google search brought me to your door any more – probably something about assessment or homework. I tried to run a SBG for mastery grading system similar to, and it flopped. I got busy with school and largely forgot about actively checking the site – I’m sorry because I missed out on a lot of development by becoming an occasionally drop in and lurk kind of reader that would have pushed me to try to become a better teacher. Then I saw your TED talk and how far you had pushed the idea of multimedia hooks and even better you were still sharing it all and had become a celebrity of sorts – attracting followers and connecting me to other innovators and early adopters of the current education paradigm shift that seems to be occurring. So I started using google/reader to help me stay current – been actively lurking and very occasionally commenting for a couple months now. I even begrudgingly signed up for Twitter a couple weeks ago since it seemed like some of the ‘behind-the-scenes’ conversations were happening there. So now I’m up to over 150 blog subscriptions plus kind of checking twitter, and I find myself trying to spend a lot of my free time this summer to become more than a ‘so-so’ to ‘decently average’ teacher – I’m thinking about incorporating 3 act and/or flipped-classroom and/or SBG and so on next year, because I’m ten years into this education career and already starting to feel old when I see some of the great innovative things other people are doing. Best PD ever, am I right?

  3. @Aaron – Maybe we could coin a new one, the “Dan Meyer number” — the number of posts written by a math edublogger before linking to or mentioning this blog?

  4. I started blogging to prevent burnout the way people exercise to avoid depression. It has been a game changer for me and for my teaching. I cannot say that I have the best blog, but it is a great way to reflect and share and observe. It then grew into a website to organize all my thoughts into one place and one curriculum.

  5. That latter points makes sense, just in terms of how communities work. From a newbie’s point of view, there already exists this community that may be hard to get into, at least on the same level. But there are other newbies, and it’s easy to communicate with them. There’s not already a shared history. For the vets, there’s a bunch of newbies but it’s not yet certain who will stay and who will quit. That always seems to be the way of it, not just in the blogosphere.

  6. This prompted a trip down memory lane for me. There were very few math bloggers in 2005; at least that I knew about … and I was looking for them. ;-)

    @Matt Townsley Would love to see the results as they come in. Is the Google SS embedded somewhere?

  7. Found you through John Burk, who I found through frank Noschese who I found via an asu modeling email listserv, which I found via
    Excellllent . (say like Monty burns).

  8. I wholeheartedly agree with the newbie comment. Seeing big shots, and being a newbie means there is a huge intimidation factor. I have typed many comments to people like Dan, Jason Buell, et al. only to delete it because I felt my commentary may be superfluous, naif, or incompetent. Meeting fellow newbies bridges the gap, and makes the whole interaction thing less intimidating.

    I would love to do some research on gateway blogs. I definitely started blogging as a direct result of this site (same with twitter too). I wonder who else are these gateway blogs.

  9. For 6 years I alone was the math department at our one K-8 school district. Team meetings were kinda lonely; I got really tired of hearing Fawn talk. We have 1.2 more teachers teaching math now, but without common prep time, it’s hard to collaborate. Then came blogging and Twitter (many thanks to Peter Price!), and I really feel surrounded by a genuine community of caring and passionate teachers. Teachers’ blogs give me lots of ideas and inspiration; their tweets make me want to have a beer with them and beat them at Tetris.

  10. It brings back good memories, thinking about when I first started blogging (which was when I first started teaching). I was leaving grad school to start teaching, and I had been reading your blog in preparation, and was so energized by the ideas. There were only a handful of bloggers back then (2006/7), and I remember individually checking each blog every day or two. (That was before I felt the need for Google Reader, because there were only a handful.) I still remember slaving over my entries for your “four slides” contest.

    I was so inspired that I started my blog, but I kept it secret so only my sister could read it and comment on it. After enough time had passed (6 months), and I was sick of lurking and commenting, but never posting my own, I took the plunge and made my blog public. I don’t know if everyone felt this way, but at the time I felt like the bloggers/commenters weren’t a tight-knit community, even though there were only a handful. I also remember the types of schools, the student populations, and the locations we were all in were super different.

    A couple years later there were more. And Kate busted on the scene and inspired more and more with her refreshing style and great ideas.

    And then there were more, and more, and more. And twitter came along and changed EVERYTHING (for the better, in my opinion). However as the number of blogs increased, I found my interaction with blogs change significantly. In order to keep up with the blogosphere, I skim a zillion blogs. Instead of reading everything, I scan a post and ask myself two questions:

    1. Is it useful for teaching something in a classroom If yes, then I read the post.
    2. Is it musings about something concrete (e.g. SBG) that I can apply? If yes, then I read the post.

    Out of, say, 30 posts, I will probably only read 3 or 4.

    Also, with this explosion, I’ve found that I do everything in Google Reader. And I comment waaaaay less — because it takes effort to go to the blog, read the other comments, and then type in my own. I feel bad about it, because there are times when even saying “This idea rocks! Thank you!” doesn’t happen. I just have too much on my virtual plate. And I don’t always go to the blog I take an idea from and thank the person either. For me, blogs have become less the forum for conversation/criticism. (Exceptions exist, like this blog.) Now I see them as more individual, introspective spaces with little interaction. They have turned into places to share resources we’ve created or ideas for the classrooms that we’ve come up with.

    Still, I feel a much stronger sense of community now than I did when I started. That’s probably largely because there are more people that I interact with, but also because we have twitter, and have gotten to know each other as people and friends. The trials and tribulations that we might not blog about get bandied about, and we celebrate and commiserate and encourage and challenge each other in real time.


  11. My first blog entry came in 2005, but I started a blog for purely personal reasons – to have a place to post pictures for my mom where she wouldn’t have to log in to view them. I got to school at Southbank International School, and I almost immediately started a classroom blog for my students. I shared summaries and ideas via the blog, and my students shared summaries of what we had done during class.

    It wasn’t until 2008 that I started blogging for a personal educational purpose (as opposed to a classroom blog), and I can honestly say, I wasn’t following other people’s work at the time. I don’t have any links in my work to anyone else’s stuff for most of a year.

    I wonder how many people started blogging on their own, without being part of a support network in advance. The survey was interesting, but it certainly seemed to suggest that any “family tree” we might construct would only start with one root system. Surely many of us started blogging before we knew there were other bloggers out there?

  12. Fawn sent me a DM right after your post and I read it when there were only 2 comments. I’ve been out all night and this is the first chance to comment, and I’m the 17th (maybe later by the time I press submit). I’d like to keep this short, but doubt that will happen. For the record: I think this is a ruse to get me to comment on Dan’s blog (I kid!).
    First, I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to approach blog communication, posting, and interaction. It’s an art. Art shouldn’t be contrived (Dan, I’m not implying that you think it’s contrived). I truly believe blogging is an art form. I’m a complete novice at this stuff. Blogging is simply a way for me to practically journal my thoughts, emotions, or rational behind a lesson or significant moment in my teaching. I like to look back on them. Usually, my feelings are, “Oh yea, that was cool.” or “What was I thinking? Did I really do that?” Either way, it helps document my craziness since I can’t rely on my porous memory.
    Dan, much love and respect my math brotha!
    You’re the main reason I am currently involved in this blissful math online PD. I’m sure I’m not the only one you’ve inspired. As you can see, my blog and other online artifacts demonstrate this admiration. I’m a huge advocate for what you’ve created, because I believe it’s right, natural, effective, and what education so desperately needs.
    Time allocation: I recently posted that my online PD and math community has consumed me in ways that I neglected other important components of my life, especially my family. My wife and son are at the top of my list, and when I realized they were no longer at the top and my online math PD interaction ousted them, it was time for a reset. Hence, why I’m posting 17th and not 3rd.
    Dan, you’ve made many posts that I want to submit a comment. By the time I get around to commenting, there have been at least 3 people who share my point. I concur with post 14 or post 21 or post 3. Meh, I feel it a moot point. Dan’s site has heavier traffic. He’s a rock star. I’m not. I’m still writing songs in my garage. My immediate go-to’s are Fawn Nguyen and Nathan Kraft. I’ve connected with them like no other. All three of us are still writing songs in our garages, jamming out ideas, dreaming of the big stage one day. We three are in the classroom living the dream (no slight to you Dan). You’ve done your grunt work in the classroom and we have benefited from your posts; past and present.
    I’ve made it a goal to get my priorities back in order where my family gets me the most, my online math PD colleagues are next, and my students reap the benefits of the previous two being fulfilled. My head was spinning at the end of this school year. I wanted to post on the Coffee Traveler blog and even do my own calculations, but never got around to it. Being an 8th grade teacher at my school has its share of nonsensical extracurricular activities. Your Popcorn Picker had impeccable timing. I met with a 2nd grade teacher who was interested in teaming up with me for next year after my 3 Act presentation. She literally had the Popcorn Picker scenario in her 2nd grade textbook. I wanted to tell you, but got extremely busy. She was floored that a concrete media representation of it was available. I tip my hat again.
    Anyway, I’m not one to be tied down to a certain protocol, especially with blogs. It’s an art. I gravitate toward those that I connect with. My quantity of commenting or lack thereof does not necessarily equate with my level of interest. Dan, I look forward to your posts. I’ve commented on them, but not as much as I’d like.
    You da man! I still think we should play a game of H-O-R-S-E if we ever meet.
    A pint of beer is just as good. Cheers!

  13. I came across Dan’s brilliant TED talk, which then linked to his blog. I was hooked and couldn’t believe what I had found. Here was a guy with passion, doing what I did for a living, and blogging about it! He spoke my language. I had never read any blog of any type before Dan’s. Then I started reading his Faculty Lounge Links. Blown away. I wanted to be part of this culture of educators who undoubtedly were leaders in their schools.

    I agree with Timon’s claim that intimidation can creep in and kill the drive to put oneself out there. Influenced by Seth Godin’s work, I jumped in. I’m no where near the type of blogger I want to be or can be. But I started. That’s the beginning. Dan was was inspiration.

    I’m going to say something else that I’ve felt in the edublogosphere, which may or may not resonate with others. I often wonder how well certain bloggers know each other. It can be tough to show up to the party alone. If Twitter is an indicator, it seems that there are seemingly impenetrable pockets of exclusivity that do not engage with the newbie, and then there are surprising pockets of inclusivity that invite the newbie into their circle with welcome arms and maybe even give a helpful boost. I favor that tight-knit community feel.

  14. @John Berray

    I know how you feel about the impenetrableness, and I find that the social media realm is just the same as any other social context. You are going to mesh, and therefore infiltrate the community that you most identify with. We may start off with math education, but some of my Twitter interactions have been strengthened simply by un-mathy common interests.

    I also personally have a self prescribed rule; if you interact with me, I will try to interact with you. I don’t know if anyone else follows this standard, but I know that a lot of great people have interacted with me once I actually shared. I’ve spent many late nights bugging the heck out of jybuell for help with Science/SBG. I have e-mail fnoschese for advice on modelling. I’ve pestered Dan about who knows how many different topics, and they are all kind enough, willing enough, and overjoyed to see some teachers trying to make a worthwhile change in education, that they interact.

    This tells me that, once again, like any other social circle, people will invest in you as much as you invest in them.

  15. It’s funny (but true!) to think of Dan as a rock star blogger!! I think as the online PD community expands it starts to take on elements that are similar to the music community. The visibility of a few individuals inspires the rest of us to push ourselves more, share more, be more creative. This is an amazing and productive system of mutual inspiration!

    I’m pretty new to twitter/blogosphere but I have some experience with the music community and I’m fascinated by the similarities, both good and bad. As the community grows, so do some complex and potentially negative aspects like Andrew, John have brought up (“time allocation” for bloggers over family and friends, perceived “exclusivity” of twitter communities). I think it’s wise to keep a vigilant eye on my motivation, since questions like “How many twitter followers do I have?!” are good indications that my priorities may be getting a lil wacky!

  16. I am a newbie to the blog (my first post on my blog was in January), and I often wonder what teachers’ motivations are for having a blog. For me, I have found that having the blog allows me to share ideas with colleagues in an efficient, and archived, manner. For example, a colleague recently wanted to know about some ideas I had for factoring, and I referred them to the blog, where a discussion had already taken place. As one who often facilitates professional development for math teachers, I understand that many teachers don’t immediately latch onto the ideas they receive during inservice, but perhaps after a few months they have the opportunity to come back to an idea and are ready to utilize something learned a while back. The blog allows for this.

    I had a pre-service teacher, a former student, observe my classes for a few days. At the end of the 3 days, he remarked that I seem to have a story for everything I teach; there is always some nugget or “what if” attached to what I teach. The young student wondered where all my stories cam from. It occurred to me that the stories, ideas, and hooks I have used are all culled from experience, and that by leaving that classroom to take a job in our district’s curriculum office, those experiences risk being lost. Hopefully, the blog provides a chance to share what I know, and pull in new ideas from my new network of friends.

  17. Greg Schwanbeck

    June 19, 2012 - 3:49 pm -

    @Matt Thanks for making the results public, now I have a huge list of new blogs to check out!