Open Discussion: Would a PDF annual for math blogging be helpful? Or just a lot of work?

(Editor’s note: I’m going on vacation this week, so I hope to get lots of comments, feedback, pushback, etc. by the time I get back.)

I’m a huge fan of the McSweeney’s Annual “Best of American Non-Required Reading” edited by Dave Eggers. As a more-or-less weak reader (in terms of what I actually accomplish) I like having a go-to hard copy of a text that I know will be filled with great stuff.

Similarly, I’m, frankly, pretty bad about getting around to reading all the amazing stuff that happens in the Math blogosphere every single day. Often, I’ll see a link and say “ooh! I’d really like to read that!”, bookmark it, star it, get busy, and then I’ll forget about it. Much of this stems from simply how disorganized I am. Mea culpa.

What I’d really like, is some sort of annual, much like McSweeney’s, of the best, or most interesting, or helpful math blog posts that I could sit down and enjoy for an evening. I’d frankly like a physical copy that would allow for notes, bookmarks, and tabs. I understand that many of my colleagues are “over” physical books, but I’m not. But even those that are, usually use some sort of eReader and use Evernote to make their comments electronically. Either way, some sort of published or publishable form is required (i.e. a PDF or other document).

So what if we started collecting the best, say, seven blog posts on Middle School math, the best seven on Calculus, the best seven general commentary, the best seven reflective pieces out there floating in the ether of the blogosphere? We could aggregate it, copy it to a PDF, add a few “you might also like!” links, include the printouts in the posts (if there are any) and just, I don’t know, sort of have it. If you want to print it, take it to Kinkos and spend $20 (or whatever) it takes to print out, go for it. If you want to download it to an eReader go for it.

The most obvious question is: why? Why would you want to create a static PDF out of rather lively blog posts? Wouldn’t a blog post with your “favorite posts of 2011” be just as good (or better)? Aside from that creating another blog post to read (that I’ll probably forget about) and looking a tad too much like the weird Edublogging Awards, what’s the value-add of a carefully curated PDF version? The answers to some of these have been hinted at already, but here’s the value-add for me, personally.

1) I like holding things. I’m a tactile learner. I like to pick up and put down books. I like to flip back and reread. I like to make notes in the margins, put sticky notes in things I don’t want to forget, and ask questions to the author, knowing full well he or she will not be there to answer them. I like to read physical texts without having to worry about spilling coffee on them.

2) It can bring non-bloggers into the fold. A week ago, I was doing some teacher training, trying to explain how awesome blogging and twitter were for my professional development. So what did I do? I firehosed them: gave them 10 different links to 10 different blogs, and another 10 different twitter accounts and said “go explore”. I’m sure some of those teachers did, and others said “phew, this is just too much” or “where are the links again?” or “twitter is dumb.” Instead, if I could give them a concrete document and said “here are the 5 best things I read concerning Pre-Cal last year”, that might lower the bar of entry and give really great reading opportunities right from the get go.

3) You know how water slips through your hands, no matter how tightly you squeeze them together? This would help stop some of that. Like I said, I lose a lot of great stuff, by not ever “getting back to things.” Again, a personal thing, but one that I suspect applies to a lot of people. Or for teachers that are just coming to the revolution now, it would provide a sort of “what you missed” point of entry.  Hopefully, we’d (I’d) stop missing things like,

  • Kate’s awesome logic game (from January)
  • John’s also-awesome Area Block game (from 2009)
  • Sue’s post on common errors on a particular warm up (from 2010)
  • Jason’s reflective piece “hinge points” and checking for understanding (from 2010)

And before I continue further, let me ask you: did you even know any of these fantastic pieces even existed? If you’re late to the blogging/twitter game like myself (starting up in 2011), wouldn’t it be nice to have had those?

4) It would act as an artifact for the Year in Maths, and maybe even provide evidence of growth. When did all that #anyqs stuff start? What really captured the math education zietgiest?

5) Michael (@mpershan) tweets:

Book, PDF, whatever, but yes: some “north star” to point to.

============================================

Now.

All of this butts up against this, from Jason (@jybuell),

I don’t know either. If we are going to create a static document, it has to be really, really good. It would require a communal effort in terms of curating, editing, formatting, and designing, none of which I have experience in.

You could go to the McSweeney’s website, or find a table of contents and probably find many of the pieces listed in the “Best of Non-Required Reading.” But I don’t do that. I wait for a time when I’m free of distraction and really ready to be engaged.

So, saving logistics for a later date… comments? Is this a project that would only be value-add for me?

(side note: in my annual evaluation, my supervisor suggested one of the things I need to work on is this tendency of mine to start projects, get real excited, and move on to other things before they’re completed. I hope that’s not what’s happening here, but it totally could be.)

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11 Responses to Open Discussion: Would a PDF annual for math blogging be helpful? Or just a lot of work?

  1. Geoff check this out, http://www.blurb.com/self-publish.

    I think it would be worthwhile if we could use it to pool together resources as well as put any money that we make towards grants or towards funding awesome things like TMC. I like the idea, and I don’t know if it would be worthwhile for the people that are reading blogs already, but it may be an awesome gateway to bring to conferences, to share with others. The truth is not everyone wants a blog and Twitter, should we cast them out of our community of resources simply because they don’t like that form of interaction? I don’t think so.

    I like with blurb that if you want an e-copy you can get that. If you want a hard cover you can get that. It really does seem like this will mostly be for people outside of the Twitter-Blogosphere, and that might be difficult to motivate people for the creation of it. I look forward to seeing what others say.

  2. emergentmath says:

    Thanks for the comment Timon. I too wonder about motivation, particularly once the school year is back in session for the bulk of teachers.

  3. I believe there’s a best of the science blogs book, but I don’t see anything like that on Amazon. Maybe I’m wrong. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about wanting an annual Best of the Math Blogs book myself. When I’m done with Playing With Math, I’d be interested in working on something like that.

    It could come with an electronic version that keeps all the links. I think it would still be worth editing. There are quite a few bloggers who are watching as many math blogs as they can. They could save their faves.

  4. emergentmath says:

    Hi Sue, thanks for chiming in. On twitter, a few tweeps mentioned that you had started a similar project. I’d love to hear best practices from your experience.

    I’m thinking an open google doc (or google form) where anyone can submit blog posts. Once we’ve got a good cache of suggested posts to include, we could start copying text and images into a static document, with hyperlinks and such. Let’s crowd-source this guy.

    • The Math Teachers at Play blog carnival accepts contributions, and you get lots of spam from those online colleges when you host it. The same thing would happen with a collection like this, I think. So there needs to be some mechanism for deciding what gets in.

      The pieces in my book, Playing With Math: Stories from Math Circles, Homeschoolers, and Passionate Teachers were often collected from blogs (especially the teacher chapters), but also from connections made in person, and through email lists. I often took a few blog posts and wove them together, to make a more substantial chapter. So a best of the math blogs would be different.

      If it’s a group effort, the mechanisms would be different than how I’m doing my book. But I have probably learned a lot, and will think about how to share my ‘best practices’.

      (If interested, you can follow my book progress at facebook.com/PlayingWithMath.)

  5. Sean Sweeney says:

    I’s enjoy it. I come in and out as time allows, and it would be great to have a best of sort for when I’ve been on hiatus. I know that I’ve missed a ton of great stuff recently.

  6. I can see something like this being really valuable. I’m new to the blogosphere, but I’m already finding that there are a TON of good math blogs out there and it’s hard to keep up. Even when I do read different entries and see some great ideas, I don’t always remember them. I can already see the day coming where I’ll think to myself, “man, what was that one awesome idea I saw on someone’s blog a while back?” But I won’t be able to remember exactly where I saw it, and hence unable to find it. Having an artifact like this would be a great way to keep a record of some fantastic ideas that might otherwise get lost in the cybershuffle.

    • emergentmath says:

      Yeah, I hear you Jeff. It’s also a lot easier (and faster) to physically flip through a book than it is to navigate back and forth through web pages.

  7. GJ Mitchell says:

    Hi all. What a case of serendipity. Just yesterday I began work on a reddit-style Math Education news site. The basic idea of the site is that anybody can sign up and post a link to a blog or article they create or like. Other users can then upvote or downvote the article, depending on whether they like or dislike it. I feel it could be a great tool in designing a pdf-annual of great math posts (a fantastic idea).

    Like Sean and Jeff above I find it so difficult to try and keep on top of all the great posts out there and the MathDirectory has grown out of my need for a way to manage this.

    Hopefully some of you like the idea. The site is still a bit away from launching but when it does, it really depends on the contribution of others, whether to post links, comment or vote on links. Before it launches I would love to have had some people in to try it out and to start a list of great links to vote on. Would anybody on here be interested in that?

    I’m apologise if this is seen as taking over the conversation, that is not my aim. I just feel that our two goals could complement each other very well.

  8. M.Capito says:

    Another slacker possibility would be to just use the Social features of Delicous or Diigo to let the best ones float to the top. (They report how many people saved the links.) Of course, that requires one of those being chosen as the “industry” bookmarking standard.

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