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Did you know there are around 4.2 million tweets sent a day that are related to education?
Twitter has only been around since 2006. In maths education terms, it's younger than Making Mathematics Count and only 3 Ed Secs ago. Twitter was born the same year as the Primary National Strategy for Literacy and Numeracy. (It's also younger than the first four Harry Potter films. Life without either would be indescribably dull now, wouldn't it? Not to mention the enormous positive impact on literacy…).
The numbers are astonishing, and in themselves make for a wonderful maths lesson. Here, you can visualise how many tweets are being sent per second. Over 310 million people use Twitter (and that's frequent users, not just those who sign up and do nothing else) — that's roughly equal to the total amount of people in the world who live outside their home countries, around 3.15% of the world's total population. If we stood on one another's shoulders (and what a striking metaphor that is), the world's Twitter users would reach the moon. Easily. It's also approximately the same number of people as the whole population of the Earth in 0AD.
An interesting question: What percentage of all humans who have ever lived have signed up for Twitter?
Before looking ahead, try and visualise it. I'll give you a clue by telling you around 44% of Twitter accounts have never sent a single tweet.
My estimation is around 1.3% (based on 1.3 billion registered users of Twitter and 100 billion people ever having lived). How does this compare to your prediction?
Do you know how many teachers there are in the world? There is an amazing UNESCO dataset which may help: according to their figures, more than 83 million. This is currently equivalent to around 1.12% of the world population: enough people to get more than halfway around the Earth at the Equatorwhen standing in a line, or approximately the total number of births per year.
How many of these are maths teachers? It's difficult to tell, as you can imagine. There are many teachers who teach maths amongst other subjects, who teach at primary level with more than one specialism, or on whom the data is scant. According to this Royal Society research, the total percentage of maths teacher in the UK is around 7.5% of all teachers. Extrapolating to the rest of the world, this would give us around 6.2 million maths teachers worldwide. That means hundreds of thousands of people around the world, facing the same misconceptions, the same sorts of pupil questions, the same issues about how to present a topic for the first time as we do. It's a breathtaking thought. Regardless of language, resources or class sizes, there are some issues that remain common to us all when trying to help our students learn about the fascinating world of mathematics.
Wouldn't it be easier if we all talked to each other a little more?
You might have heard of Twitter (I'm pretty sure I mentioned it in my first sentence). It might be something you think of as a way for people to discuss TV shows, politicians or sports commentary, crack jokes about news stories, or argue about religion.
Twitter is rapidly converting teachers of all ages with its opportunities for CPD. I use Twitter to ask for research papers, debate educational policy, to share resources and ask questions of the maths community. There are weekly #mathschat and #mathscpdchat opportunities to debate important classroom issues like how to represent maths visually and get information on new exam specification changes. The beauty of it is in the eavesdropping; you can see all posts under a certain hashtag without having to utter a word or weigh in yourself. You can ponder, deliberate, weigh up and examine different points of view from all around the country (or even the world) without having to leave your own staffroom.
More than anything, Twitter is bite-sized. CPD doesn't have to come in two-hour slots any more - you can choose when you have two minutes to answer a poll, five minutes to read a resource or ten to comment on a question. Take it in when it suits you; turn it off when it doesn't. The same can't be said for traditional CPD…
Twitter is all about connections, and so is maths. But for both you have to be open to them. A great teacher finds new connections in their subject matter every time they teach it anew. For me, there's nothing quite so delightful as finding a snippet of mathematical beauty, a powerful image, a new conceptual way of looking at something I hadn't considered before - and all served helpfully to me on a Twitter-shaped plate without having to search for it. As an NQT, I dreamt of technology that could help me with my struggle against workload - it felt like I was constantly reinventing the wheel. That was more than ten years ago. Now, my first piece of advice to an NQT is to join Twitter and build a network to support and sustain you through the tough times ahead. You are not alone. - join the flock.
A siege of herons, a bevy of quail. A congress of ravens, an exultation of larks. What do you call an aggregation of mathematicians? A group? A set? Your ideas welcome…