Hello, reader! If you intend to post a link to this blog on Twitter, be aware that for utterly mysterious reasons, Twitter thinks this blog is spam, and will prevent you from linking to it. Here's a workaround: change the .com in the address to .ca. I call it the "Maple Leaf Loophole." And thanks for sharing!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Love, Your Fairy Blogmother

[update: Sam Shah disagrees with half of what I say here, but in very compelling ways. Highly recommended reading there, too.]  [Also, Elissa has awesome and high-larious wisdom on the matter.]

So you want to start a blog.

What you should not do: Email me. I mean, I don't mind, but I'm just going to be generically encouraging. I've been getting deluged lately, so this post is a public service. "Start a blog" must be a popular summer project for teachers this year. I'm sure commenters will add many helpful suggestions I didn't think of, so be sure to check them out, too. Also note: I violate these pointers all the time! They're just suggestions.

What you should do before you start:
  • Start reading. Set up Google Reader, subscribe to every blog you can find that's like the one you want to start. Check your reader at least once a week. You don't have to read every word. Read the posts that interest you.
  • Start commenting. Don't just use your first name if it's common. Especially if it's "Dan" "Dave" or "Matt." Use your last name or make up a hilarious or distinctive nom de plume. Also, don't just comment to comment. Say intelligent things. Add to the conversation. Point to good resources or tell a helpful anecdote. 
  • Pick a title that stands out, that people will see the title and think, "Oh yeah. That guy." Don't choose a title with "Math" in it. Don't choose a title that only differs by one word or letter than someone else's blog. It might take you a while to think of a good name. It's ok. Take your time. You're going to be stuck with it.
  • Write a tagline that concisely describes your purpose.
  • Optional: Get on Twitter. Contribute to the conversation there.
When you start writing:
  • Add your link to the comments you write, so people can follow it and get to your blog.
  • Some people publish several times a day, some a few times a week, some go months between posts. I don't think it really matters, as long as what you do publish is worth reading.
  • Give each post a title that makes the reader wonder what it's about and want to read on.
  • Don't be afraid to post about your failures as well as your successes.
  • Tell a story. Give it a beginning, middle, and end. Include an illustrative anecdote about how it went down in your class. Dialog helps, which you can totally make up if you need to.
  • Avoid posting fodder just for the sake of posting, such as : embedded videos without commentary that adds to its viewing, lists of links to other blogs, etc.
  • Stick to the topic. Don't badmouth anyone. Try not to complain too much.
  • Credit and link back to ideas you got from and references you make to other people's work.
Realizing I May Have Buried the Lede:
  • Be generous. This community is a gift culture - sharing is how reputations are built and respect is earned. If you have worked hard on a successful lesson, it's worth writing up. Share your presentation files, handouts, dynamic geometry sketches. There are many sites that allow you to share documents for free, and BetterLesson has a nice platform for this now. 
Some suggestions for getting more readers:
  • Don't be too focused on hit counts or number of subscribers. Are you learning from your written reflections? Are you having worthwhile conversations? Isn't that why you're doing this?
  • The best way to get people to read you is to write original content worth reading.
  • Volunteer to curate and host a carnival like Math Teachers at Play.
  • Keep commenting elsewhere, and including the link back to you.
How to manage comments:
  • Acknowledge insightful comments and keep the conversation going for as long as it makes sense.
  • Respond to direct questions to you.
  • Learn to tell the difference between commenters who want to discuss legitimate differences in opinion and issues raised by your post, and the ones who just want to drag you into a pointless holy war. Engage the former.
I hope that helps. Good luck!


  1. Timely for me as well. Thinking of making the blog plunge for next semester. Thanks for the itemized tips!

  2. So excited for a Calculus Dave blog!

  3. Aw shucks, did you write this for me? :) All kidding aside, these are all helpful suggestions. Thanks. Regarding getting readers (which should really be about forming a community more than having lots of "friends", but I digress): it might be obvious but I would also add that you should tap into your current non-interweb network. Also make a decision early whether you want to be anonymous and whether you want to tell other teachers at your school. There are advantages/disadvantages to both.

    Oh yeah, and check out my new blog. :)

  4. I don't think joining twitter should be optional.

    The #1 best thing you said was: The best way to get people to read you is to write original content worth reading.

    The only thing I have to add in is to be yourself and be honest in your writing. We don't have time to read imitations and fake personalities. Speak your truth and we'll take it from there.

  5. Thanks for this. (Even though it's about a week too late for me...)

    I rolled out my first ever blog last week. It happened to be the same day that "How I Met Your Mother" ran their season finale, making fun of blogs for being so 2002.

    I gave consideration to much of what you said here. I spent way too long choosing a (lame) name for my blog, but I'm excited to get posting. I have my next three posts all ready to roll out, and drafts of at least 5 more. I just don't want to put out too much all at once.

    I am obsessing a little too much over the number of visits. I can't find my blog in a google search, and I'd appreciate any advice that people could post here that would help make it visible to search engines.

  6. thanks for the post Kate.

    I've been thinking a lot about blog traffic lately. I've been wondering what the golden number is. On the one hand, nobody reading your blog kind of sucks. You and Sam have high enough traffic that you can do awesome things like a binomial expansion videos and people actually do them. When you ask for help, people respond with suggestions. On the other hand, I worry you start to lose a certain intimacy past some x number of readers. My blog is on a very specific topic (standards-based grading) and so I get two or three emails a week from people asking for help. I can devote 30 minutes to a timely, well-thought out response. I don't know what happens when you've got 1000's of readers and your inbox is inundated. Of course, since my only readers seem to be you, Matt T., David C. and Shawn C., I don't think that's going to be a problem any time soon.

    I'm going to totally second the "Comment under a distinctive name" point though. For years, here and other places I've commented with any sort of random name I felt like. Not because of anonymity, but because I didn't think it mattered.

    Now, looking at Calc Dave over there, I realize that reading all of his valuable comments over the years have made me more excited for his blog than an Apple fanboy at Macworld.

  7. Also going to back up the frequency v. quality comment. Ben Blum Smith at posts like 3 times a year but they're so effing awesome it's like Christmas each time I open up my Reader and see his website in bold.

    Going to add something: Please,please,please use a full feed. Nothing gets me to unsubscribe faster than checking blogs in Reader and seeing the first sentence of a post and then {If you'd like to read more, click through for exciting stuff!} No thanks. If you want me to click through, make your post kick ass so I want to see it in its full page glory.

  8. Well done, Kate. Although it would be a bit self-referential, you should also add "Read this post" to the things you should do before you start.

    I wish you'd written this a week ago before I started my blog ( :) ) I can already see a few mistakes I've made.

  9. Just a note - my blogroll (What I Read) in the sidebar is shall we say haphazardly curated. If you are writing a blog that you feel deserves to be included, please don't be offended. I probably just haven't gotten around to it. And do feel free to email me about that.

    Jason I agree with the magic number idea but I don't know what it is. At this point sometimes I feel f(t) has too big an audience for me to say some things I wish I could say. I never want to make anyone at my school sorry that I'm blogging.

    There was a time when I recognized every commenter's name and felt like I knew what to expect from them. That was nice. But more people jumping in is good too, to avoid groupthink and echo-chamber conversations.

  10. I've been adding nothing since 2002.

  11. You're like a mind reader. Although I've not been blogging very long, I have yet to talk to anyone in my district who even reads blogs on a regular basis. So in the fall, I'll be talking to the math teachers in my district, extolling the virtues of reading/blogging. I was going to be soliciting help soon on what to tell people besides my own personal experiences. I will be passing these tips along. Thanks!

  12. Thank you very much for this post! I just started a blog. I'm at a strange point in my life--I've taught college (science) for 15 years and I'm leaving to teach HS (once I pass one more exam and student teach).

    I hope to teach math as well (which is why I started reading your blog). At this point, the blog is just my musings (about life as well as teaching) but I hope to be able to contribute something useful someday.

    I've found the education courses that I've taken over the past two years to be rather frustrating--too theoretical and started reading blogs to find some more practical information.

    I've found your blog to be very enlightening--thanks.

  13. For people subscribed to comments who might not see it otherwise: check out Sam Shah's take on this topic. Different but as usual much, much better.

  14. Hmmm...after reading the comments I suddenly feel a lot better about never being able to find Calculus Dave's blog.

    Also, as someone planning to jump into blogging about teaching (if only to make myself do a bit of focused thinking and reflecting on teaching each week), thanks for the advice.

  15. What a great post Kate. You have been doing a great job expanding the conversation on mathematics education with your posts and by providing a venue for others to comment.

    I'm excited to see that you're now helping others do what you have done. Thanks for your great leadership.

    Unfortunately, I'm one of those Dave's that just can't be creative enough to come up with a better handle.

  16. >Don't choose a title with "Math" in it

    - unless the rest is very picturesque. I blog at Math Mama Writes. Kate helped me get started. She didn't have so many rules back then. ;^) I think my blogname works very well. And I love Math Hombre and Math for Love. If you are going to break her rule, check out all the blogs with math in the name, and make sure you'll sound real different. If you're a couch potato, Math Potato would be fun and memorable.

    I like all the other rules, but I don't even have a tagline. I wonder if I should... I don't have any idea what it would be.

  17. Emily, Stacy, welcome to the party.

    Sue - I'm sure you know I wasn't trying to criticize anybody's blog name. There's just lots of blogs with way similar names around, and it's hard to remember whose is whose. I was trying to encourage people to broaden their consideration of good possible blog names. These aren't rules and if they were, they'd be begging to be broken. I think Math Mama Writes is perfect for you.

  18. I just started my blog: Math In the News ( reading these posts. The blog's purpose is to brainstorm ideas about how to incorporate current news events into my high school mathematics teaching practice. I chose a name with math in it...but I'm ok with that. I'm curious about the number of readers, but not too worried. Mostly its just a great way to write again with a purpose. I always wanted to journal, but never could get inspired to write just for myself. The blogging experience is really like journaling, but with the addition of a (small) audience.

  19. Kate, I do know. I loved this post, and my family training with lawyer dad and brother is to always look for the loophole. So I did. (If my tone sounded less grateful, loving and silly than I meant it to, I'm sorry.) Always grateful to you, my blogging mentor!

    Kevin, I just added you to my google reader. #157. I think I'll enjoy your posts. Here's how you make that name into a link in comments: You type the less than symbol, otherwise known as open angle bracket, then 'a href="' (don't type the single quote, do type the double quote), then the url, then ", then close angle backet (aka greater than), then the name that goes with the link, then open angle bracket, /a and finally close angle bracket. If you can manage to parse that, you're golden.

  20. Major I got looking into Sam's suggestion of wordpress over blogger, I find that my school blocks wordpress. Not an impossibility for me, but it would be a BONUS if I could blog during my lunch! Serious conflict going in my head now!!

  21. I know I am late - but I would like to add a few comments.

    1) Fairy Blogmother = awesome.

    2) Trolls. Don't feed the trolls. You will get trolls, but you don't have to feed them. Do not get upset by the trolls, think of them as good things. A good blog will get some trolls.

    3) First, write for yourself. Think of your blog first as an online journal that will help you get your thoughts together. If others read it, that is bonus.

    4) Once a post is written, it is "out there". Don't worry if no one reads it right away. It has been added to the collective and one day it might be popular.

    5) Number 4 means that you do not have to write everyday (as was said in the original article).

    6) If you get some stats monitoring, checking them every 30 seconds is counter productive - I am talking to myself on this one.

  22. Thanks Rhett. I've started a blog up recently to achieve No.3. I have found myself to be very disorganised and have decided to start the blog in order to develop my own thoughts and ideas (and possibly get others opinions if they have anything to offer).

    I do not think that I will be going down the stats checking route, that way lies madness!

    The Teaching Cipher

  23. Your advice is perfect. I was never into blogs that much, but in my grad class now we are taking about our personal learning networks (PLN), and ways to increase it. Our teacher told us about Google Reader, I subscribed to blogs, including this one, now I'm reading and writing about the process.

    I'm not that interested in my own blog. . . yet, but reading them has provided me with some valuable information.

  24. Nice brief and this post helped me alot in my college assignement. Thank you as your information.


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