Me, MTBoS, and NCTM

I spoke at the Global Math Department on Tuesday about a little bit of modeling I did at NCTM two weeks ago thinking about the MTBoS (MathTwitterBlogoSphere) and what it means in the larger math education community. Here’s my data and relevant conclusions:

This year the MTBoS booth made it possible for tweeps to feel much more like a cohesive community within NCTM. Just look at these pictures!
Screenshot 2015-05-03 at 6.18.07 PM
The booth was an awesome place to hang out and connect with people, and Tina, Justin, and many more made it an incredible collection of resources and ideas for connecting with teachers online. They also had a cool poster where everyone signed their names and Twitter handles:
Screenshot 2015-05-03 at 6.20.00 PM
There were about 175 names on the posters by the end of the conference. If we assume a bunch of MTBoS folk didn’t stop by to sign, looks like we make up somewhere in the neighborhood of 2% of the 10,000 attendees. Not bad. The booth was also passing out brightly colored #MTBoS stickers (see above) for people to put on their badges and announce that they were part of the MTBoS.

My Experiment
On Friday morning, I was inspired to do some modeling. I picked a few places to quietly watch attendees passing by and see how many had #MTBoS stickers. I tried to make it as objective as possible — I would pick a door exiting the exhibit hall and count every person who came through the door, or a narrow hallway, or an escalator, to minimize my bias as much as possible. From data gathered at random places around the conference, 2.9% were wearing MTBoS stickers (n=448), more or less in line with the data from the poster.

Now that data point is much more interesting if we have something to compare it to. Unfortunately I started gathering data after many of the MTBoS folks’ sessions, but I went to two to try and get an idea of what the difference was between the conference as a whole and a few specific MTBoS-y talks. At Tina Cardone & Ashli Black’s Nix the Tricks talk, 10.1% of attendees had MTBoS stickers (n=89) and at Steven Leinwand’s talk, 8.1% had stickers (n=87). While I don’t have hard data on other sessions, this was consistent with my experience across the board.

This was pretty surprising to people at GMD. Many estimated that 25% or more of attendees at these talks would be MTBoS. And this is particularly interesting to me because all of the MTBoS talks I saw were absolutely packed. Kristin Gray’s talk had a capacity of 304 with people standing. Michael Pershan & Max Ray’s talk had a capicity of 210 and was packed as well. Robert Kaplinsky’s talk had a capacity of 400, and there were people standing around both walls. Andrew Stadel’s room fit 210, and people were sitting on the floor and standing around the back. Tina & Ashli’ talk had a capacity of 210 and people were sitting on the floor, standing around the back, and still getting turned away at the door. Mathalicious talks were full 10 minutes before they started. #shadowcon15 had 300 seats full, with people lining both walls and out the door trying to catch a peek.

So there’s something going on here. Call me a skeptic, but I don’t think a few hundred people came to see Michael and Max just because of this blurb:
Screenshot 2015-05-03 at 6.23.59 PM
I mean, complex numbers are cool and all, but one of the most popular talks of the conference? Seems like people are being drawn to these sessions by something besides the content. And Michael & Max, Robert Kaplinsky, and Andrew Stadel’s talks overlapped and they were still all full. It seems like the reach of MTBoS presenters goes way beyond those who self-identify as part of the community.

The conclusion I have here is that there are a lot more lurkers than there are active tweeps in the MTBoS — our community as a whole has a much larger reach than we might think in our usual circles on the interwebs.

I decided to do some more experimenting. I was curious what it would be like for some of these people to join the community. So I created two fake twitter accounts. With the first one, I started by following Dan Meyer, and then picked all of the suggestions that were math teachers. These were the first 20 people Twitter gave me to follow — a pretty awesome list in my book.
Screenshot 2015-05-03 at 6.27.01 PM
Next I decided to see what would happen if I just tweeted out into thin air with a hashtag or two. First I tried #msmathchat, with this tweet:
Screenshot 2015-05-03 at 6.27.40 PM
Here’s what I got back:
Screenshot 2015-05-03 at 6.28.54 PM

I was pretty impressed. One tweet, two hashtags, and already a few links and ideas to explore.

So I tried another, this time just tweeting at #MTBoS:
Screenshot 2015-05-03 at 6.29.43 PM
Even with just that one tweet, three different ideas came back, ready to take to class:
Screenshot 2015-05-03 at 6.30.44 PM

This little experiment definitely affirmed my belief in the giving culture of the MTBoS. Lots of great people who will happily stop what they are doing to help someone they’ve never met teach a little better tomorrow.

I don’t have any real conclusions beyond there. While I have always been impressed at how welcoming the MTBoS can be, I know that may not be the case for everyone — I just put together this page, also linked at the top of my blog, of MTBoS-y resources that someone who just stumbled here could explore to learn more about this fascinating community. Not sure if that will make much of a difference. And I’m enormously impressed with the hard work of folks who put together all of those resources — to me, that is the true power of the MTBoS — resources that can live on the internet and help teachers forever. Or at least until the current file types become antiquated.

Definitely curious for thoughts if folks have them — what does the MTBoS do well? What can it do better? What awesome resources have I missed?

2 thoughts on “Me, MTBoS, and NCTM

  1. Robert Kaplinsky

    What a validating experiment. I wondered whether anyone would respond to someone who was new to Twitter, but your resullts are promising.

    One interesting experiment I often do, as a means for crudely and rapidly assessing whether people are aware of the #MTBoS is simply asking groups of teachers, “Have you heard of Dan Meyer?” You should try it. It has been my experience that when asking teachers at school sites, I would say that fewer than 20% have. Even at major math conferences, the number is closer to 50%.

    On a related note, however, there are plenty of math educators who have paved the way for us today that we are sadly unaware of. For example, I was clueless about the great work Zal Usiskin had done.

    So, I guess I will wrap it up by saying that it is interesting to know where people get their information and why they attend a session. Seems like it wouldn’t be an impossible thing to measure.

  2. Pingback: On NCTM and the #MTBoS | Five Twelve Thirteen

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