Saturday, May 9, 2009

Abstract and Reflection: Social Justice Math

The purpose of this project was to examine how Social Justice Math (SJM) can help students in urban school districts make real-world connections between the mandated curriculum and issues, topics of need, and concern in their own communities. The goal of Social Justice Math is to help students not only become more aware of the needs of their community through units of study such as this, but to become agents of change themselves. We selected Newark as our target community, and began our project with a walking tour of the city and neighborhoods encompassing several of its public high schools. Our tour, recorded in the form of field notes, revealed that the type of stores, businesses and services readily available to Newark citizens was severely limited in the poorer neighborhoods. This particular disparity between neighborhoods gave rise to a lesson plan and unit analyzing community businesses and services in poorer neighborhoods of Newark, and drawing comparisons to more affluent communities. Using SJM can enable students to “read their world” and develop creative solutions to real problems.

As I've written in other blogs, I feel as though my group and I have unearthed something really special in social justice math. In previous blogs, I've candidly admitted to being cautious of SJM. Enough of that. I want to write about the present and the future. SJM has really allowed me to see where I can take a mathematics class, which I never believed possible. Beforehand, mathematics was as I had learned it. As a student, I reveled in mathematics. It was to me, a puzzle that never ceased to interest. For all my reveling, however, I liked other subjects equally well. History and English, for example, were two favorites of mine. I greatly enjoyed analyzing a piece of poetry or prose, or reading of the plight of American's during the Civil War. I still do today: Why this Christmas, I finally read Vidal's Lincoln, an excellent read, for sure. But I digress.

Where I'm going is this: In History and English class, there was always the possibility of relating the class to the real world. I remember reading articles about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski in 8th grade American History class, for example. In Junior Year Spanish, I read Spanish articles about the aspirations of select tennis students. All throughout undergrad, I read food articles for Travel-Writing class. In each of these cases, my teachers brought the real world to the classroom, and extended the curriculum by allowing us to interact with it.

Mathematics class, however, was never about the present or present situations. It was always about hypothetical situations and ridiculous notions. It was about two trains meeting in the night, or Chinese Postmen doing their rounds, or walking across bridges in eighteen-century Prussia. I loved that stuff. Most every did not.

I see SJM as a way to bring the joy I experienced in the non-mathematics classroom to the mathematics classroom. I see it as a way to make mathematics into a real, tangible, and practical tool that students see the necessity in. With it, math becomes something that exists outside of math class; it becomes a language spoken by people who are not math teachers. But at the same time, math is furthering these students' understanding of their world, the parts they play in it and the very real part they play in it. To me, this dual nature is powerful, as it says the following: First, mathematics is important; second, you are important. I think this sort of dual-empowerment is really necessary in the classroom, and is the sort of encouragement needed of students.

In closing, I'm very happy that I did this project (with the help of others) on social justice math. It's totally changed the way I look at the classroom, and opened doors like I'd never expected. It's also challenged me to discover future methods of tying mathematics to social situations, and allowing students to explore the mathematical underpinnings and truths of those situations. I find this combination of possibility and challenge very satisfying. It's enough to wonder, though, what else this teaching gig has in store for me.

Reflections of a Semester

When I think back to the beginning of the semester, I find that I've learned a lot about possibilities. In a mathematics class which I had with Brian Miller--the adjunct professor whom my group interviewed--I learned that there are often two types of applications of math. There's what's most common: Teachers inventing situations based their perceptions of reality. This version inherently leads to contrived situations that both artificial and hardly engaging. Specifically catered to the perceived interests of students, these applications deter students more than interest them.

Then there's the other form. It's not so common, but which is gain interest amongst educators. It turns the previous form on its head. Instead of inventing situations based on perceptions of reality, it takes actual situations and requires students to use critical-thinking and problem-solving skills to understand and provide solutions to them. Social Justice Math is but one exploration of this application-based approach, but an effective version, nonetheless. With Social Justice Math (SJM) students learn of power-relations in society, either by examining the microcosm inherent in their own day-t0-day life, or the macrocosm of our world and the injustices we tacitally accept. Rather than using newspaper articles or text books, however, students in sjm situations use something more powerful in understand the world and inequities: Math.

When I first came to MSU, I believed only in the first of these two applications. I had no notion of how I would even do the second. After this semester and my explorations both of the application approach to mathematics and social justice math, in both CURR 523 and Math 579, however, I view has changed. I see now that teaching Mathematics is full of potentially interesting, captivating topics that I can use to excite or intrigue my students. I can also make math into more than procedures, but of concepts, which ideally, is what mathematics is truly all about. But there's more. With this new tool, I see that I can show my students that mathematics is more than just right or wrong answers. It's about history, our past and where we've been . It's about the present, who we are and how we are. It's about future, where we're going and how we'll get there. It's about us. There are no right or wrong answers, here, only opinions.

Based on what I've learned this term, I've stopped seeing the teaching of mathematics as merely what it is. I've started to see it as it could, or someday, might be.

Online Assignment

The purpose of this assignment is to look at documents presented by the LSNJ, such as The Real Cost of Living in NJ and A Desperate and Widening Divide and to put these studies into context by seeing how the six families studied in Lareau’s Unequal Childhoods would fare in Essex County. The perception is that as educators our students will tend to be represented by one of the nine archetypes represented by Lareau’s study. As teachers in NJ—possibly Essex County, a county with which we as students are familiar—it is further important to be aware of our students’ financial and socioeconomic situations. Therefore, this analysis and comparison of data allows us as teachers to get even closer to the reality of our students and their lives.

Comparing The Real Cost of Living in NJ with the families in Lareau’s Unequal Childhoods paints a grim picture indeed. Of the families studied, only the most affluent families—those of the Tallingers and Williamses—should make it easily in Essex County. Of the remaining families, only Marshalls just get by; even then, it really is just getting by. In Essex county a four-person family with 2 adults and 2 school-aged children costs about $50,000 per year per parent. Therefore, in such straits, the minimum for this lifestyle in Essex Country is $100,000 per year. Ergo, the Marshalls, who made $100,000 in the study, seem to fit perfectly. However, there is a caveat: Based on the report, we learned that Mrs. Marshall felt uneasy about their living situation; working as a computer programmer, she felt as though employment was tenuous at best. Given Mr. Marshall’s employment as a civil servant, were Mrs. Marshall loses her job, there can be little doubt that a major life-style change would be necessary.

Then there are the families who wouldn’t make it in Essex County—The Taylors, the Brindles, the McAllisters, the Drivers, the Yanellis, and even surprisingly the Handlons. The tragedy here is two-fold. In terms of low-income families like the Taylors, Brindles, McAllisters, Drivers, and Yanellis, it begs the question, how do low-income families get by in Essex County. Not every town is Newark, and not every town is Livingston: Essex County is a varied county, with a gamut of salaries, ethnicities, and classes. From Lareau’s study, these five families represented the students I will encounter from low-income families. But if they can’t make it in Essex County, let alone in Lower Richmond, how will this affect their lives, school attendance, and performance?

As I mentioned earlier, the issue of families not making it in Essex County is two-fold. In the case of low-income families, the impact is apparent. However, the impact is less apparent for those families from middle-income households. In this case, I am referring directly to the Handlons who miss the 100K per year mark for 4-person families by 5K to15K. $85K to $95K per year is no small amount of money, and given that yearly income, most Americans would pigeonhole them as middle-class. Regardless, it just goes to show how expensive Essex County is, and further begs the question: If a 4-person family (as most American families are) requires $100K just to be self-sufficient (neglecting miscellany like activities), what happens to the rest? It is a daunting prospect, indeed.3

Matters for low-income families become worse when you take LSNJ’s A Desperate and Widening Divide into account. These families—many of whom are on public assistance and live in the projects—would have to move to Newark, if they chose to move to Essex county. Those families which would most likely fall into this category include: the Brindles, the McAllisters, and possibly the Yanellis.

(The Yanellis, however are hard to quantify because we don’t know how much Mr. Yanelli takes home, or the hours that Mrs. Yanelli works. As at one time they both worked off the books, however, I suspect underhandedness on the parts of their employers; ergo, I have placed them into the low-income category, as opposed to the working-class category.)

Living in Newark, however, would be no boon for these families, for in the ten year previous, the median household income for residents fell by about $1200! This is a staggering amount of money for any group, but would be devastating for those families that don’t have much to start. At the same time, the Brindles and McAllisters are textbook examples of those families most struck by poverty: They are households run by single female mothers. Couple this notion with that statistic that Essex county’s poverty rate has grown by 8.9% over the course of 10 years, and it is not difficult to imagine the great hurdles over which families would need to leap to escape poverty.

Group in the working class families—the Taylors and Drivers—and the picture grows worse. The Taylors at $20,000 would find themselves far below the median household income for families in Essex County. According the PRI, they are also in effective poverty, seeing as Ms. Taylor makes under $27,000 per year. Given that the monthly cost of food for an adult and three children is about $639, or $7668 per year, a good 38% of her paycheck, Ms. Taylor may have to forego such luxuries as monthly trips to Sizzler and yearly trips to the beach. At the same time, the Drivers make at $45,000 per year. Accordingly, the Drivers are not in effective poverty, and are just at the Median Household income for Essex County Residents. However, they do represent a 4-person household, and as such require $55,000 more in order to be self-sufficient. This comparison begs the question: How would other Essex County residents in the Drivers’ situation get by? As I have mentioned before, 4-person families are common, so it stands to reason that the median household income for a country would be sufficient. Results such as these are greatly disappointing.
As a budding math teacher, I find all this information invaluable. As a potential urban educator, it gives me a good picture of my students before entering the classroom. It also illustrates how vastly expensive it is to live in New Jersey, and asks questions about those families that don’t make 100K per year. It also highlights the great disparity in income increase. Why should the most poverty-stricken community only see a $144-increase in median household salary over a period of 10 years, while the most affluent communities see a $5,000 to $8,000 increase? It is greatly unfair, and students need to not only know about it, but should learn about it, and use that knowledge to excel.

This, as in Jin’s blog, leads me to how this is useful to me as a budding math teacher. It all comes down to mathematics, and in the case of our Curriculum Inquiry Project—Social Justice Math. Using social justice math, I can devise lessons that will enlighten students—and not just those from poorer communities—as to the economic difficulties and out-right poverty that exists in New Jersey. But at the same time, being aware of these difficulties also enables me to construct lessons that are strongly mathematics-based and which when coupled with social justice issues will enable me to develop critical thinkers, both in terms of mathematics (and later their careers), and in terms of society. And maybe out that some sort of change is possible.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Blog 11

Yes, this one is late. In fact, given the end of the year, they’re all late, but I think that is to be expected. I like to supply good, well-thought blogs when I write them, not a few paragraphs strung together to fulfill an assignment. But enough of me: Onto the blog.

One of the blogs for week 12 was to reflect on what we had learned regarding the inquiry project, and how it has shaped my understanding of public education. Admittedly, I tend to cringe when I read essays that proclaim how much their life is forever changed due to such and such project, and how in succeeding years, he/she will implement these ideas in increasingly dynamic ways. Blah blah blah. The irony, here, is that I genuinely feel this way regarding our project—that of social justice math— and its direct relation to my future career as a teacher of math.

Before I knew anything about social justice math, I wasn’t really sure of its place in the mathematics classroom, a common notion. As I began to dig deeper, I started wondering if I had been exposed to bits and pieces of it while in school and as and editor. Certainly, I had seen items that exposed students to environmental issues, such as tracking the fossil-fuel build-up in the atmosphere. In its own way, this is social justice math, but in terms of inner-city students—in fact all students— it’s also a hair removed. Learning about global warming can empower students to be more eco-friendly, but it is also a hair removed from students’ lives.

After our “walkabout” in Newark, however, I really began to see how social justice math can really be a tool to incorporate into lessons in teaching and a method by which to empower students to learn math and better understand the world around them. Although any cursory trip into the inner city tends to reveal the same types of businesses, I was never aware of the quantity of each type and their proximity to each other. I was also completely unaware of the total paucity of business I would have expected present, but which sadly were not. Based on our trip, I have come to realize that it really is possible to “read the world with mathematics,” as Eric Gutstein suggests, and that this contextual application of mathematics need not be limited to statistics classes, as I had previously feared.

While it is true that out of our walkabout, we came up with a possible set of lessons that teachers could implement, I feel that our project has had a more direct impact for me, as it has opened my mind to bringing more controversial and traditionally social studies type ideas into mathematics class. I find this idea riveting, for a host of reasons. One of these is that while I do enjoy mathematics (and during my free time can be found reading math journals and textbooks) my interests continue outside of math; they include music, history, and the humanities.

Why is this exciting? Well, for one thing it allows mathematics to be more interesting, not only for me, but also for my students. When I think of traditional applications of mathematics, the most common ideas are: 1) Story problems that have no bearing in reality, 2) the mathematics of science, and sometimes 3) the mathematics of music. However, with the inclusion of an idea like social justice math, the applications are more.

For example, for another class I put together a lesson that explored the relationship between race and salary amongst major league baseball players. For me, this lesson was not only interesting to develop, it used mathematics to explore a concept that has long been an element of the history of baseball, while also furthering students’ understanding of difficult statistical concepts like null hypothesis, alternative hypothesis, hypothesis testing, z-scores, and regression equations.

Given these two, very different lesson ideas, I can only imagine the world interesting and socially rewarding mathematics lessons allowed by social justice math, not only for myself, but also for my students.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Lesson

If you’ve been checking up on me, you’ve probably noticed that I’m a bit behind on my blogs. I blame the weather. All this rain and grey skies—it’s totally ruining my creative energy. Remind me never to move to Seattle.

Enough of that: This is supposed to be an introduction to my project. Rose Ellen wrote a very nice intro to our group project; allow me elaborate on what this project has become for me.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, it all started with an Ed. D student named Eliza. In mere passing she’d mentioned Social Justice Math to me. Initially, I was not intrigued. I thought it sounded like socio-Marxist mathematics. Unsurprisingly, that’s what a lot of people think it is.

As I dug in deeper, I came to appreciate it as something more—as a way to see the world as it truly is using real-world statistics and mathematics. Teaching mathematics in this way is very contextual: It makes math real.

For our project, we chose to drive around Newark and see what popped out at us. Jin drove. Rose-Ellen took pictures, and I looked out the window. As we drove around the lower-income areas we kept seeing the same few things: liquor store, Western Union, Church, Fast-food joint, grocery/tienda, and used car place. Every few blocks: Rinse and repeat.

At first it started out as a joke, an open query: Just how many check places were there in Newark? Or in the central ward? Were there more in different wards? And what could that mean? By the end of the trip, however, I knew that we had a potential lesson.

The lesson or ongoing project would start with an assignment:

“In a group, travel 1 square mile around your neighborhood and make a chart of each kind of business. Be sure to keep a tally of each kind. Be sure also to record the addresses for each kind of business.”

For Newark, teachers could assign different square miles if students were older, didn’t live in Newark, and/or had access to a car. Further, I see this lesson as being appropriate for grades 8 and up. The idea here would be to encourage students to cull data. To elicit further interest, teachers would explain to teachers that this was a part of a new investigation called: “What Makes a Neighborhood.” When pressed what such an investigation would cover, teachers could say that it would allow them to learn about the places in which they live.

In the next class, students would bring the data they culled together. Here they would determine the average number of each business per square mile per ward. Taking this idea a step further, teachers would ask students: “Now that you have this statistic, how many of each business is in each ward? And further, what is the ratio of people per ward to each business type?” Challenged in this way, the teacher would facilitate a discussion with the students on different ways to approximate areas, and in particular, unusual areas like Newark’s wards. A variety of methods would be introduced: among these would be Pick’s Theorem. For homework, students would determine an area of each of the wards using different approximation techniques. After class (or during if they have access to computers) students would also post the results of their discussions onto a class webpage. They should also be developing a class map using Google maps. On this map, they can post the location of each kind of institution/service/business.

In class 3, the teacher would facilitate a discussion with students on the different areas determined for each ward. The teacher would then pose another question: Given the number of square miles in each ward, what are good approximations of each number of businesses? Students discuss in groups and then discuss in a teacher-facilitated discussion. Here the idea of ratio, rate, and proportion is discussed as students instruct others on how to determine the approximate number of services/businesses available in each of the wards. For homework, each student would look at the number of businesses and types of each per ward and discuss in a journal the equity of said distribution. Students would also note the distribution of certain institutions in the different wards—e.g., banks, gyms, hospitals, supermarkets—and discuss this equity, as well. In particular, students would assess if people in the different wards require better access (e.g., more, but less costly transportation, or a better distribution of services per ward), to institutions and services that are unavailable in the different wards.

During the fourth lesson period, the teacher might ask her students to discuss what they wrote about in their journals, directing the class in particular to the notion of distance, time, and money required to arrive at certain institutions: e.g., banks, gyms, hospitals, or supermarkets. As a final activity, student will use the map they have been developing to determine the most effective route from their home to each service/institution. Using, they will also determine if they can take a bus there, how much walking is required of them, and how much money the trip will require. After this activity is completed, the class will come together, and report their results. From these, averages will be determined. These will go on their webpage. Students can also write about their discoveries in their math journals. They should discuss how they feel about the costs, and speculate how this affects the constituents in their community.

If time is provided, the project could be extended to the suburbs, and this time to encompass 5-square-mile blocks of similarly affluent neighborhoods. Here, as before, students would record the different number of businesses/services/institutions represented in that block. If students do not possess cars, this part of the project could be altered in the following ways:

1) It could be developed into a field trip, wherein different groups of students would go with an assigned parent or teacher to a different part of a very affluent suburb and canvas the neighborhood in a way similar to the listing above; or

2) This project of three to four lessons could be developed at the same time by another or several mathematics classes in affluent suburbs in the state.

At the beginning of the project, students would be told that they would be working on a social project with students at these other schools and that each class would be developing their own web pages to illustrate that learning. Similar in scope to the 3-day activities posted above, classes in the affluent suburbs would be responsible for accumulating data about affluent areas. Ideally, these classes should look at 5 square-miles. If this is unrealistic, however, the teacher can partition a suburb into square-mile blocks and assign each to each pair. Those students can then do the same activities as their urban counterparts: cull data on neighborhood businesses, determine the type and number of each kind per 5-square miles and use this approximation as a way to estimate the number of and type of each business for each suburb. As determined, this information would go up on each class web page. Students from all classes would be required to look at each for each stage of the project.

With the data available on each class webpage, each teacher should require their students to compare life in the suburbs to life in the urban areas (using their data as a metric). Out of this activity, students should analyze the different ratios, distances, number of institutions, costs, and distances/times from home to each institution developed by the classes. Students should determine numeric and symbolic ways to compare these times and draw generalizations from the data. After completing these activities, students should discuss their findings in a teacher-mediated discussion. The teacher should bring up the notion of access, and ask students about the fairness of each situation. She should ask them if there are ways to ameliorate the inequalities in access, and provide them with ideas if the class has none. For homework, students should reflect on the ideas discovered from this project and what might do to affect their community positively in regards to the lessons learned from the project.

And that, I think would be a really cool and interesting project. Certainly a lot more interesting than anything I ever did in math class.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Curriculum Inquiry Project

I'm a part of the Social Justice Math group, so if you see some overlap between our documents, there's good reason: We're using google docs to brainstorm ideas relating to social justice math, to pinpoint a main topic question, to isolate queries for students and teachers, and to unpack the whole kit and kaboodle.

As of 1:27 pm this Monday, March 30, here is a brief sketch of things and where they stand:

Can social justice math (sjm) be an effective teaching method in urban school districts?


1. Using actual data or statistics, what can educators infer from sjm's implementation in the classroom?
2. Is sjm an effective form of teaching?
3. To gauge its effectiveness:
Does it raise student motivation and achievement?
What data illustrates/refutes this claim?
Which school districts employ sjm in the classroom?
4. Why do some districts choose not to employ sjm?
5. How do teachers feel toward using sjm in the classroom?
6. Can it help students deal with standardized testing?


1. Interview questions:

Tentative candidates for interview: Eliza Leszczynski, Brian Miller, Rick McNamee

Also possible: Math teachers or administrators from these high schools in NYC:

Harvey Milk HS (East Village)
New York City Algebra Project (Brooklyn)
Acorn High School for Social Justice (Brooklyn)
Bushwick School for Social Justice (Brooklyn)

Possible interview questions include:

1. How would you summarize the basic purpose behind social justice math (sjm)? What aspects of sjm are most important? Why? What to you are essential criteria for effective instruction using sjm?

2. What is your assessment of sjm? How do your peers in teaching view sjm? How do administrators (super-intendants, principals) in your experience view sjm?

3. Do you currently use sjm in your classes? If not presently, have you ever used sjm in your classes? If never, is it a methodology that you would like to use in math class? Why or why not?

4. Please describe your personal experiences using sjm in the classroom. What noticeable effects, if any, were apparent due to its implementation? What do you feel are the cause of these effects? What immediate effects, if any, has sjm had on your students? What long term effects, do you suppose, sjm has had on your students?

5. What do you feel are the positive outcomes of using sjm in a classroom? What do you feel are the negative aspects to using sjm in a classroom? Are these unique to teaching with sjm? With increased development, are they avoidable, or are they necessary aspects of teaching with sjm?

2. Survey questions:

For students through Brian Miller, Rick McNamee

For teachers at Harvey Milk HS, New York City Algebra Project, Acorn High School for Social Justice, Bushwick School for Social Justice, and other math teachers who agree to take our survey.

QUESTIONS (for students):
1. What does the term "social justice" mean to you? What could the term "social justice math" mean?

2. Do you feel that math should incorporate social, political and economic issues into its instruction, such as with a social justice math curriculum? Why/why not?

3. Is it important for students to have an understanding of social, political and economic issues locally and around the world?

4. Should developing a "social consciousness" be an important part of your educational experiences?

5. Have you ever heard of the "empowerment of students"? What do you think that could mean? Can math empower students to analyze and potentially change the world? How?

6. Are you familiar with the idea of higher-level thinking? Do you think higher-level thinking about larger mathematical ideas is important? Why/why not?

7. Could incorporating social justice math motivate more students to learn math?

8. Do you think math would be more engaging if it was "real world" rather than "theoretical"?

9. If you were given the opportunity, would you choose to participate in actual community problem-solving projects?

QUESTIONS (for teachers) [Note: there is some overlap between these question and the interview questions, though I have been conscious to limit the interview questions so that they are fewer and more open-ended in scope]:

1. What do you know about social justice math? How would you summarize its basic purpose?

2. Do you currently use social justice math in your classes?

3. What do you feel are the positive outcomes of using sjm in a classroom?

4. What do you feel are the negative aspects to using sjm in a classroom?

5. Please describe your personal experiences using sjm in the classroom. What noticeable effects, if any, were apparent due to its implementation? What do you feel are the cause of these effects?

6. Please provide examples of lessons you have brought to the classroom
incorporating sjm. Which were most effective? Why?

7. Rate the following on a scale of 1 (least likely) to 5 (most likely):
- Social justice math can help me differentiate the curriculum more easily.
- Social justice math can help me create interdisciplinary and thematic units.
- Social justice math can help me learn about my students' families and their communities.
- Social justice math can help me assess learning within a meaningful context.

3. Qualitative Research includes:

Christiansen. (2007). Some tensions in mathematics education for democracy.

a qualitative study of four mathematics classrooms and some of the tensions and benefits of teaching sjm.

Garii & Rule (2009). Integrating social justice with mathematics and science: an analysis of student teacher lessons

a qualitative analysis of how student teachers incorporate social justice into math and science classes

Gutstein, Lipman, Hernandez, & de los Reyes. (1997). Culturally relevant mathematics teaching in a Mexican American context.

a qualitative study of teaching elementary/middle school in a Mexican American community. The purpose of the project is to help teachers use what they know about their students' culture to improve students' learning of mathematics, and of other subjects as well, and to help students develop critical approaches to knowledge and the tools they will need to be agents of social change

Gutstein. (2003). Teaching and Learning Mathematics for Social Justice in an Urban, Latino School.

a qualitative study of 7th and 8th grade Latino/a students in a midwestern public school who learned mathematics using the curricular program Mathematics in Context (MiC) as well as special projects on sjm

Gutstein. (2006). The real World as We Have Seen It: Latino/a Parents' Voices on Teaching Mathematics for Social Justice

a qualitative study of Latino/a parents who supported social justice math in their children's 7th grade classroom in the Chicago public schools

Gutstein. (2007). And That's Just How It Starts: Teaching Mathematics and Developing Student Agency.

a two-year qualitative, practitioner-research study of teaching and learning for social justice.... research suggests that students learned mathematics and began to develop sociopolitical awareness and see themselves as possible actors in society through using mathematics to understand social injustices.

Skovsmose. (1994). Towards a Critical Mathematics Education.

This article uses a class project that uses sjm to explain math literacy (or mathemacy) and the importance of a critical mathematics education. It implements several units that could be used in a sjm setting.

Telese. (1999, May). Mexican American high school students' perceptions of mathematics and mathematics teaching.

a survey of Mexican American high school students and their perceptions of mathematics and mathematics teaching in traditional and reform classrooms.

Treisman. (1992). Studying Students Studying Calculus: A Look at the Lives of Minority Mathematics Students in College.

a lecture given as one of the Mary P. Dolciani lectures at Hunter College. Embeded within is a qualitative study of college freshman, in particular minorities (African americans and Asians), their motivation towards studying and understanding mathematics (calculus), and how the college system failed them

a chart of possible topics for sjm classroom use; how to implement sjm into the classroom; advantages and disadvantages to using sjm in the classroom

4. Quantitative Research includes:

West and Davis (2005). Research Related to the Algebra Project’s Intervention to Improve Student Learning in Mathematics.

A quantitative study of the Algebra Project as provided by Lesley College for the State of Virginia's Department of Education. It demonstrates that the Algebra Project served to bolster test scores for traditionally under-achieving students.

Winter (2007) Infusing Mathematics with Culture: Teaching Technical Subjects for Social Justice

A quantitative study that provides statistical data demonstrating that social and cultural learning can be infused into technical courses without negatively affecting content area learning

Monday, March 23, 2009

Themes for Chapters 3, 4, and 5

Upon reading Chapters 3, 4, and 5 from Lareau’s Unequal Childhoods, two main themes occurred to me: child/child interaction and adult/child interaction. Below is a list of notes and reflections I have compiled on each.

Child/child interaction:

Amongst children in the three classes represented in this study (middle, working, and poor), I was surprised to discover that as parents made less money, the bond between siblings, cousins, and neighborhood children grew stronger. Growing up in a foreign country, several thousands of miles from any of my cousins, I was never afforded the luxury of playing often with them. I did, however, relish the time we spent together during our often 6-week family vacations in the summer.

For the remainder of the year, I had my brother, and as children we and our friends played often. However — and this may be because the beginning of my childhood began in the 80s and ended in the 90s — unlike the children reflected in this study, I would argue that my childhood was definitely middle class (with certain privileges that in this country would be synonymous with upper class), and while I did engage in certain activities after school, these were never as extreme as the cases presented, nor did they trump the way in which we valued the sleepovers and day-time activities organized by my friends, my brother and me. Perhaps ironically, reading the case study on the working-class family seemed greatly familiar to me, and the model I would implement for raising children, though borrowing some of the adult-support themes from the middle-class study.

Universally, I also noticed that regardless of class (and this could actually be more a result of class than anything) that in their culturally cultivated activities, children tended to play in homogenous settings; at the same time, natural growth activities also found children playing in homogenous settings.

Adult/child interactions:

I noticed that as families had more money, siblings also tended to become highly competitive with one another; in these cases, it seemed as though children had learned that parental favorites — and thus sibling hierarchy — were dictated by ability. Those with more ability became the center of family life, while the remaining children had to eschew their own lives for the most able of siblings.

Reading of this culture greatly shocked and upset me. To me, children should be treated equally, not favored, nor broken-up in to a caste system based on ability (or birth order). While I agree that their abilities should be nurtured, they ought to be chosen by the child, not dictated by the whims of the adults. It deeply upset me, for example, that Mr. Tallinger did not wish to nurture Spencer’s love of science because he knew nothing of science. To me, that’s one responsibility of a parent: to learn the interests of his children, and to enable them to explore those interests. It’s also, however, the responsibility of the parent to provide balance in a child’s life, so that children have time to be children: to play, to have fun, and to connect with others their own age. The time to be adults need not be rushed into. This balance also seemed to be missing from the lives of the Tallinger’s, even though they had the money to do right what the Taylors and Brindles could not.

Another theme I noticed in the relationship between the adults and their children is the role adults play in children’s lives. I call this either anchor or coach. In the Tallinger study, Mr. Tallinger seems to be more of a coach than a father: he seems to approach his role in their lives as part employer (see when he reasoned with his sons to finish homework or join the swim team) and part cheerleader (when he comes to Garrett’s games and sits with the parents to cheer-on his son; though even here, the cheering is more employer criticism than cheering).

In the Brindle and Taylor studies, however, I found that Ms. Brindle and Taylor were (or attempted to be) anchors in their children’s’ lives. In the case of Ms. Taylor, she went to Teroc’s games to be supportive and because she felt that she should be there to nurture his abilities and interests. At the same time, Ms. Brindle wanted to fly to be with her HIV-positive daughter to be supportive of her (even if it was a tremendous burden to her own life).

This theme continues through parental justice. Mr. Tallinger reasons and argues with his children to accomplish discipline. He is the epitome of a coach in their lives. On the other hand, Ms. Brindle and Taylor have no qualms in beating their children when they misbehave. While beating seems barbaric to me, this action remains true with their role as an anchor — even here, beating allows them to discipline their children.