Why I Blog

In preparation for her featured NCTM presentation next April, +Kate Nowak is asking why we blog. I also have an NCTM presentation about teachers and social media use, so everybody helping Kate is helping me, too. (That's part of why we blog.)

I think I had my first website in 1996, and I joined Blogger (back in the pre-Google Pyra Labs days) in 2001. I didn't have an education-specific blog until 2009, but any nervousness about self-publishing content to the web had long passed by then. So to answer Kate's questions...

Q1: What hooked you on reading the blogs?
A1: I was the sole full-time math teacher at a small rural school when I attended the 2008 NCTM Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City. Suddenly I found myself talking to members of the National Math Panel, math education professors, and teachers from all over. I'd forgotten what it was like to be part of the larger mathematics education community, so after I got home I tried reaching out to that community in support of my own teaching. I subscribed to Mathematics Teacher and the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, and while the articles in JRME looked interesting, I quickly got the feeling they weren't written for me. When I searched the internet for information on mathematics education, I found most scholarly articles behind paywalls — another sign that what was out there wasn't meant for me. All those academics that made me feel welcome in Salt Lake City now made me feel shut out of my own profession.

But where journals failed me, blogs succeeded. +Shelly Blake-Plock's "TeachPaperless" blog was very interesting to me, and I was very impressed by Stacy V on Twitter, as she tirelessly searched for and replied to students who expressed their math frustrations via tweet. It was around that time I started following +Dan Meyer and +Cassandra Turner, and when I started graduate school in the Fall of 2009 I had decided that I wanted to use my blog to bridge the research world and the practice world.

Q2: What keeps you coming back?
A2: In many ways, the blogs are my bridge back into the practice world, which, if you allow it, can feel as distant from the research world as the distance feels to teachers looking across the gap from the other direction. I admit that I find myself less interested in the content of any one blog or post, and more interested in the general nature of the conversation and how that represents math teaching as a profession. (If you're wondering how my talk will likely be different from the other math-teacher-blogger sessions at NCTM, this is it.)

Q3: If you write, why do you write?
A3: I'm in a very privileged position; I have access to great people and great literature and I get to think about mathematics education as my full-time job. I feel a responsibility to share. I benefit personally from greater social capital, as now people introduce themselves to me at conferences and tell me they've read my blog. But as a student who is funded by Colorado taxpayers, tuition-paying students, and the National Science Foundation, I hope those funders would be pleased to see me writing and sharing online.

Q4: If you chose to enter a room where I was going to talk about blogging for an hour, what would you hope to be hearing from me?
A4: Like it or not, Kate, you're in a position to steer conversations beyond your own. I think there's a low bar to be a blogging teacher, but a rather high bar to be a really good one. For example, some teachers blog to reflect on their own practice. But are those reflections just casual, or more serious, in a Zeichner-Liston reflective teaching sort of way? Some teachers share resources. Do they try to describe the qualities of those resources? What measures/attributes do they use? So, Kate, if you're going to talk about teacher blogging, make sure you go beyond blog/noblog. Frame participation along a spectrum from novice towards expertise, and steps you'd suggest good bloggers take to get even better.