Math is Personal: A smOOC about Identity, Exploration, and Sharing

August 10 – August 31 2014

There is no smOOC this summer (2015). Between working at an awesome summer program (SPMPS) and moving to Atlanta, I just can’t make the timing work. However, if you’re interested in the course and would like to hear about future installments—or if you’d just like to be in touch—please contact me at

Math is Personal is a small, open, online course. Over three weeks, each participant will examine and build up their own relationship with mathematics with guidance from me and support from a small cohort. The course also provides each participants with the opportunity to reflect on how their relationship with math does and can affect the way they share math with their students.

The course is offered for free to teachers. You can take the course in your pjs and do most of what’s involved on your own schedule.

If you have any questions, please let me know!

Past participants say:

“I liked the course a lot, it helped me to blog a bit more and it was good to meet people. The readings, the prompts, and the hangouts were all helpful to me.”

“I have a lot of baggage to sort through…which I already thought I had sorted already!”

“I really enjoyed being brought together into a small group of colleagues and taking time to reflect intentionally about math in both individual and collaborative ways.”


In the day-to-day of our lives  teaching math, it’s natural to focus on the instrumental. We try to figure out: what explanation or problem set or project is going to help these kids to push forward and understand the skill or concept at hand? Sometimes I feel like I’m sitting inside of a giant robotic suit, using the apparatus of my class to orchestrate understanding for my students.


And there’s something pretty freaking great about that. Feeling like a mastermind every once in a while—wielding powerful and potent tools—is extremely satisfying. I know that the techniques and strategies I seek out, use, and refine are super important to my teaching craft.

But there’s another feeling I get when sharing math with my students. This feeling is way less mediated and instrumental and way more personal. When I show my students a piece of mathematics that I figured out myself or that inspired me when I was younger or just yesterday, I share something that’s a part of me, not something external.


I feel empowered to share in this way because of the variety of mathematical experiences that I’ve had and the fact that I’ve mulled on and processed these experiences over time. Further, I know that sharing math in personal ways makes a huge impact on my students’ experience of mathematics.

So I’d like to offer you the chance to do some mulling and some experience-collecting. It’ll be like a math retreat—a chance to reflect upon your relationship with math and how it influences your classroom and your students’ relationships with the subject.

  • What is math for you?
  • What have been the key moments in your mathematical life?
  • How has math made you feel?
  • What are different kinds of mathematical strengths? Which do you have, and which do you find more readily in others?
  • If you are math’s ambassador to your students, which of its aspects do they see most clearly? Which parts not as much?


The course is a “smOOC”, which means that it’s a small (ten participants max), open, online course. During the three weeks from August 10 to August 31, participants will do some reflective writing, some reading, some math, and some discussing in a flexibly-scheduled but regular way with a cohort of nine other people. Here are the components and expectations for the course:

  • There will be four rounds of writing prompts—one in the week leading up to the course, and one during each week of the course. For each prompt, participants will write something and share it with the group. They may of course share it more widely if they wish (e.g. on their blog).
  • Participants will be encouraged to read and comment on each others’ writing. As the course’s facilitator, I will read and comment on all of the writing that participants do.
  • Additional reading opportunities will be offered in the form of a number of book excerpts and essays. These will accompany the writing prompts and will provide “angles” for them. Participants can dip into these readings as their interests dictate.
  • You’ll receive a small collection of rich math problems at the beginning of the course. The goal is that you will explore and immerse yourself in at least one of these problems during the three weeks, and that you’ll have a new mathematical experience as a result.
  • Each Sunday and Wednesday of the course, I’ll host a Google Hangout from 8pm to 9pm, ET.  The thought is that each participant will be able to fit one Hangout into their schedule each week, during which we’ll discuss the week’s prompts, readings, and reflections.
  • I’ll offer and encourage you to schedule at least one occasion for us to chat one-on-one in Google Hangouts during the course. We’ll schedule these at our mutual convenience, and we’ll use the time to talk about whatever direction the course has taken you.

Apart from a weekly one-hour Google Hangout commitment, you will be in control of fitting the writing, reading, and doing math into your schedule. You may choose to work closely with your classmates, or you may choose to pursue the course almost independently. How you pursue the course and how much time and attention you put into all of this is up to you, and of course you’ll get out of the experience what you put into it.

There is no cost for teachers and there are no credits or certifications to be gained. I’m committed to making Math is Personal open and available to all. That said, running the course is labor, time, and thought intensive on my part. If you work in a school or district where you have access to professional development funds, I would appreciate it if you’d apply for funding of $100 to pass on to me. I figure, hey, that’s what professional development funds are for. But again: I don’t want teachers to have to pay for this opportunity out of pocket.

Registration opens on Monday, August 4, and is first-come, first-served.

I’m really excited to facilitate this course for the second time. If it sounds like a good fit for you at this time, please sign up!

6 responses to “Math is Personal: A smOOC about Identity, Exploration, and Sharing

  1. Pingback: smOOC! | I Choose Math

  2. HI Justin!
    I really want to sign up for this! Two questions, do you expect a big response? I have to pick my son up at camp at noon tomorrow and worry about getting to register. Also, the google hangouts, if I could only commit to the Sundays is that OK?

    • Hi Robin!
      I’m glad you’re interested—yay! Only maybe five people (yourself included) have reached out to me with interest so far. I’m not expecting there to be tons of people, given that it’s a significant time and attention commitment so close to the school year. That said, if you’d like to maximize you chances at getting in for this offering of the course, you could have someone submit a registration for you tomorrow just after noon. Also, if there are more people interested than there are slots, then I’d consider running the course again sooner rather than later.
      To you other question, just doing one of Sundays or Wednesdays is what I had in mind, so you’re good to go on that! The two times are to allow for some flexibility.
      Cheers, and looking forward to it,

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