Recently, as seems to happen about once a year, a conversation or two, probably more, threads the needle of Twitter about online math community aka #mtbos. I remember it first happening here and here in 2013. These conversations are healthy and rich.
Each time this thread reappears, I am overwhelmed with the desire to say thanks.
In the summer of 2011, with generous funding from Math For America, I headed to the Park City Math Institute with my husband, our two mountain bikes, my then 13-year-old step-daughter and 2-year-old son, and our Bernese mountain dog. Though I enjoyed endlessly fun family time, the real gift was discovering myself as someone who was good at math and welcomed into a community of smart, funny, creative, serious and goofy mathy folks. At the time I was a middle school math teacher ( I really think I snuck in the back door when I got my single subject credential), it was the first time in two decades that I had studied math.
When I was a kid, I was really good at learning math facts. In 2nd grade I was literally kicked out of class for being too good at my times tables, forced to memorize my 13s-25s when the teacher ran out of work for me to do. In 3rd grade I got moved to a 4th grade class and in 5th grade I walked to our local middle school to take pre-algebra with 8th graders. I took Algebra 1 in 6th grade, BC calculus as a sophomore, followed by MV Calc and Linear Algebra. Throughout much of this I had the most amazing teacher, John Benson, who used Mathematica in the late 1980s better than most use Desmos in the late-2010s and who never stopped believing in me, even when I had given up on myself.
But give up on myself I did. Senior year of high school, I promised myself that as soon as I got to college, I would never take another math class. Sadly, I kept that promise for nearly 20 years.
I had gotten to a point where I could do a whole lot, but understood very little of it. And I hated, really, truly hated, being seen as a math nerd. There were maybe 16 of us in my MV Calc class and 4 of us in my Independent Study Linear Algebra class. My memories (which are probably not entirely accurate) are of me, being the only girl, with a bunch of pimply, nerdy boys who were extremely competitive, quick at math, and uninterested in slowing down for me who needed to carefully draw, model and see every new idea. I desperately needed Jo Boaler to whisper in my ear when I left for college, but thankfully I found her as an adult.
Although I occasionally get glimpses of this stereotype in my adult life, it’s pretty darn rare. Starting in Park City and again when I did Math For America and again now within the #mtbos community, I have found my people. And chances are, like me, you were a nerdy math kid. But somehow you persisted when I did not and I am so thankful to have found you. In Park City, among many others, I met Kate and Ashli, Sam and Tina along with the wise teaching of Bill and Darryl and Cal. And now, as a Desmos Fellow, I feel so lucky to be surrounded by such creative, silly, brilliant people like Suzanne and Jenn (and so many others!) who do the creative work I wish I had been encouraged to do when I was 17. THIS is the math I would have loved at 17 and THESE are the people I wish I knew then. Thankfully, I’ve found them now along with so many more.