EDU 430/530 Science, Mathematics, and Teaching for Social Justice Developed by Barbara Garii
Sixty-seven students and eight teachers at Oswego High School are going on a field trip to the Everson Museum in Syracuse . They need to reserve enough buses so that everyone has a seat. Each bus has enough seats for thirty passengers. How many buses do they need to reserve in order to go on the field trip? Many students “do the math” (67 students + 8 teachers = 75 people; 75 divided by 30 = 2.5) and announce that they need 2.5 buses to go on the field trip.
What’s wrong with this picture? Well, the problem is that even though the mathematics is correct, the understanding of what the math means, in context, is wrong. Mathematics isn’t just how we manipulate the numbers (the “process” of mathematics). It is also what those numbers mean, how we make sense of the numbers, and what processes we use to problem solve and when we use those processes. (We don’t need 2.5 buses — in fact, we cannot reserve ½ a bus! We have to reserve 3 buses.) Using word problems and extended projects in science and mathematics classrooms gives us and our students opportunities to appreciate not just the process of mathematics but the underlying meaning of our mathematical solution. In other words, Teaching for Social Justice in Science and Mathematics classrooms allows us to explore, interpret, and reconsider what we understand about mathematics and science. Usually, the processes of mathematics and science are not easily amendable to teaching for social justice considerations. There are, of course, exceptions especially within the fields of ethnomathematics (which explores different methods of organizing mathematical ideas and problem solving) and ethnoscience (which explores how different cultures organize and classify scientific knowledge). Another goal of ethnomathematics is to ensure that mathematics is contextualized: the mathematics is grounded in the needs and expectations of the community that uses the mathematics. Teaching for Social Justice focuses on the context of our understanding of mathematical and scientific ideas. Teaching for Social Justice in science and mathematics forces us to confront our assumptions about “truth” and “knowledge.” Teaching for Social Justice reminds us that information is meaningless unless is it embedded in an appropriate contextual understanding.
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Teaching for Social Justice in Math and Science: Questions to Ask in the Classroom Topic Typical Questions Raised What are ores? What are the geologic forces that shaped their development? How are they used? How are they mined? Fission and fusion of atoms Nuclear energy Social Justice Contextualization What are the costs associated with mining? Who benefits from the mining? What are the social, environmental, and economic consequences associated with mining? Albert Einstein said: “Concern for man and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.” What does this mean in terms of nuclear energy? Explore legitimate and illegitimate uses of nuclear power and justify the legitimacy Where are nuclear power plants located? How does nuclear power influence the politics and economics of Oswego county? What is the difference between “equality” and “equity?” What does it mean to “be fair?” What do averages really tell us? What information is lost, obscured, or hidden when we talk about “the average?” Is anyone “average?” How do different types of taxes (e.g., income tax versus sales tax) differentially impact different groups of people (rich versus poor)?
Division algorithms When do we use division? Calculation algorithms of mean, median, and mode Averages as a descriptive statistics tool Algorithms for calculation Sale prices, addition of taxes, descriptive statistics
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Putting Mathematics in Context
How can we integrate Teaching for Social Justice into the mathematics classroom? We do that by remembering that mathematics is not used in a vacuum. In Mathematics classes, we assign our students word problems, we introduce our students to careers that involve mathematics, we explore the history of mathematical ideas, and we ask students to bring in examples of mathematics in their lives. This is how we give context to mathematical understanding. So, take this a step further. How can you do those same things and incorporate teaching for social justice in math class? Listed below are links that will give you mathematical background material. These sources will help you plan math lessons that are relevant to real world uses of mathematics. Mathematics (Proportions) and Civics (Social Studies), Political Science, ELA How do we votes? How are our votes counted? Are there other ways to think vote (that are fair and democratic)? What is the electoral college? How does the electoral college privilege certain voters and ignore others? What impact does that have on the outcome of presidential elections? http://www.ams.org/featurecolumn/archive/voting-introduction.html http://www.ams.org/featurecolumn/archive/weighted1.html http://www.ams.org/featurecolumn/archive/voting.games.two.html Mathematics (Algebra and Proportions) and Social Studies (geography, map reading, population changes) What does it mean to “fairly apportion” the members of congress? In these exercises and discussions, your students can explore the Constitution in terms of representation to the government. How do these different apportionment plans impact taxation, availability of government services, and local economies? http://www.ams.org/featurecolumn/archive/apportion1.html http://www.ams.org/featurecolumn/archive/apportionII1.html Mathematics (Algebra, Proportions, Ratios, Percents, Graphing) and History, Business, Economics When a company (like Enron) declares bankruptcy, its creditors have to get paid, but they only get a proportion of the money they are owed. When a bankrupt company B announces it will pay ten cents on the dollar, that means that for every dollar Company B owes, it will pay out only ten cents. Is this fair? What happens when big multinational companies and small mom-and-pop businesses are both creditors? When individuals declare bankruptcy, they, too have to repay the money they owe. Who is at most risk declaring bankruptcy and why? http://www.ams.org/featurecolumn/archive/bankruptcy.html
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A Few Lesson Plans
Mathematics (Probability, Statistics), and Current Events, Geography An exploration of racial profiling, “Driving While Black,” this lesson can be expanded to consider airport screening, disciplinary measures in schools, and Wal-Mart’s decision to ignore shoplifting if the shoplifter has taken less than $25 worth of merchandise http://www.teachersforjustice.org/c-lessons/math/1LESSON-Gutstein-6-2-05.doc
Mathematics (various topics) and physical education, economics, career exploration, and current events These lessons are geared to high school students but can be modified for middle and elementary school students. http://www.wfu.edu/~mccoy/socialjustice/
Ethnomathematics and Teaching for Social Justice
Teaching for Social Justice in mathematics education means that we have to understand and teach to the contexts of our students’ lives. Ethnomathematics is one way of addressing this. Historically, ethnomathematics asks how different cultural and professional groups use mathematics. Recently, mathematicians have expanded the definition of mathematics to include exploring how mathematics is used in the lives of specific groups of students themselves, such as One set of examples that talks directly to these concerns addresses the lives of native Alaskan students living in rural Alaska. http://www.ankn.uaf.edu/curriculum/units/storyproblems/
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