Math as an analytic tool to challenge power, privilege and oppression. A place to start.

I will not let my silence mean I agree with what is going on around me any longer.

I could have titled this post #CharlottesvilleCurriculum because that is why I am blogging tonight when my first day back is tomorrow morning.  I did not title it #CharlottesvilleCurriculum – because what I am going to share is more universal and I am certain (though sad) that there will be a similar new hashtag soon.  Here is what I know for sure.  We as math educators can not stay silent in our classrooms this fall or ever when it comes to world events.  I’ve blogged about this before (here is one example) and have been on a journey to bring my students culture and communities into my classroom.  I am not even close to great at it, but I am on a journey to improve and that is all we can do.

Last week NCTM President Matt Larson and President-Elect Robert Berry released a statement related to Charolttesville.  You can read the full statement HERE.   It was amazing (my blog post name came from this statment).  Here is my favorite part.

If you needed a call to action, this is it.  Read it again.  Is this what your classroom will look like week 1?

So – where do we start?

I searched the #CharlottesvilleCurriculum hastag and added the word ‘math’ and only 4 tweets showed up – 2 of them asking for help finding resources.  If you delete the word ‘math’ in your search there are tons of things to read to educate yourself found in tweets by hundreds of educators.  These resources are great – BUT it is not easy to figure out how to translate this into a math classroom.  I think this is why so many of us educators do nothing.  We want to do better but become overwhelmed with where to start and are not sure how to create curriculum when there is so little math specific curricula out there on these topics.

There are educators out there passionate about Social Justice and bringing in our students communities and cultures in their classrooms.  I am lucky enough to work in the same distrtict with some math teachers that I think are leaders in this – 3 of whom are in my own department at my school.  Annie Perkins (teaches at the neighboring HS) and all her resources on her blog is one person I am lucky enough to know personally.  I also work with Morgan Fierst, Stephanie Woldum and Kassie Benjamin who lead professional development on Social Justice topics.  All of these amazing women challenge me to be better.  You need to follow these women on twitter (I am trying to get them to blog so you can see the amazing math units they use in their own classroom).

I think many of us don’t do anything because the idea of doing a huge social justice lesson, group of lessons or even a unit is overwhelming – I often feel this too.  So, I thought I’d humbly offer you a look into how I plan to start small this year.  I am hoping we as a #MTBoS and #Iteachmath community will join me in crowd-sourcing resources for math educators.  If you do, I promise to organize them so many others can find them too….

My Ideas for week 1

Like I said, I am starting small.  Week 1 my goals for my classroom is to build relationships with my students (Name Tents is one way), study my students (get to know their loves/dislikes/communities/assets….), Define math and what mathematicians do and to practice being mathematicians by doing lots of math.  I plan to do a bunch of Stand & Talks too.  If you’ve not read my ‘What is Math?‘ or ‘Stand & Talk‘ post, please do so before reading further.  Here are my ideas for specific math ideas to bring Charolttesville into my classroom:

  • I saw a bunch of people tweet out this graph of the year confederate monuments were built.  I was intrigued by it, but not sure how I would use it in my classroom.  The peaks in the data are so connected to huge moments in African American history.  I was worried that it would be difficult to print this out in a way that would be easy to read or see.  I went down the rabbit hole of links to learn more about this graph and found it came from the people at the Southern Poverty Law Center in a publication on public symbols of confederacy.  I read THIS 44 page report and found some other cool graphs that I am going to start with first.
  • I am planning on using this graph week 1 of school.  Notice it does not have a title on it.  I plan to give it to this to my students this way (think ‘Scenario’) and ask students to notice and wonder& do a stand & talk.  Before reading further, please take a moment to look at this map and NOTICE & WONDER about what you see.  I’ll wait….

What do you notice?

What do you wonder?

What else?

What else?

What else?

  • Did you notice the range of numbers in each state?  0-223   Did you notice the largest numbers were in the south?  Did you wonder what the colors meant?  Did you wonder what this graph represented?  After giving students time to notice/wonder I would ask them then to PREDICT what the title of this graph might be.  This graph is the number of confederate monuments in each state.  The colors in the graph are defined here:There are great questions here.  Why are so many of these monuments in the south?  Why does Arizona, a state not a state during the civil war have 3 monuments? There is a great-slightly different animated version of this graph above  HERE.
  • I think it may be interesting to take the graph above and put it side by side with this graph from Census Scope of where the greatest concentration of African Americans live in the United StatesThere are lots of similarities in the 2 graphs.  Ask, why we think this is.
  •  I live in Minnesota & I am guessing my students will be proud that MN has zero monuments.  I am thinking they may think that we do not have a hate problem in our area.  I plan to also use this graph week 1.  Again, I will do notice/wonder and not include the title of this graph.  (& again, you do the same before reading further)This is a graph of every identified ‘hate group’ in the United States.  This graph is again from the Southern Poverty Law Center and you must go there.  The graph is interactive and you can see what hate groups are in each state.  I could pull up my state, Minnesota and see the names of 10 hate groups.  This site tells you why each was identified as such.  In my state there are fairly recent Islamic Hate groups.  My guess is this is in direct response to the recent (last 10 years) huge increase in Muslim immigrants to our state (most from east Africa). If you prefer a cleaner graph, this is a black/white version.
  • I also plan to use this graph from the same site as above.  After noticing/wondering I will ask, why do you think their is an increase in 2014 after a decrease for several years?
  • I’ve put all these graphs into a Word-doc that I will print out on cardstock and have partners look at.  You can use it to.  Download it here -> SJ Stand & Talks
  • I don’t plan for any of these graphs to be hour long lessons, instead they are 10-20 minute class discussions week 1 connected to practicing being a mathematician.  Mathematicians do 3 things – we notice patterns, we describe patterns and we generalize.  We can do this with current event data  – not just textbook tasks.

How I found these graphs.

It is worth noting where these graphs came from.  I, like many of you, googled  things like ‘Charlottesville curriculum math’ and found nothing.  If you google lots of Social Justice terms & math you will find little.  You will find lots of things to read (and this is important), but it is hard to find specific ideas.  We need to change how we google to find information.

To find these graphs I search ‘hate graphs’ and ‘Charlottesville graph’ and ‘hate statistics’ and ‘Charlottesville statistics’ in twitter.  Within 10 minutes I had all these graphs and tons more to read & more resources for helping me know what to say if my students ask questions.

I am hoping each of you reading this will help all of us by searching for things we can use in our math classrooms.  If you find things, I hope you will share them via twitter (and your blogs) using #SJmath (for Social Justice Math – lets revive this hashtag to make searches easier).

Here are a few more graphs I found – I am not sure how I will use them.

You can get more information about the graph above HERE.

You can find more information about the graph above HERE – New York Times.

Another Resource from FiveThirtyEight

Are you following Five Thirty Eight (Nate Silvers Stat Organization) on twitter?  If not, you need to. I steal stuff from them all the time. Great graphs and statistics.  One thing I’ve found on their blog recently is a daily resource titled ‘Significant Digits‘.  You need to bookmark this page and check it often. (or you can ‘subscribe’ and have each day’s set of digits sent to you via email) Each day the curate a list of 3-6 numbers with information on those numbers.  This is a great source for potential math problems, warm-ups or tasks in your classroom.  Check out the ‘Significant Digits’ from today, Monday, August 21st.    Today’s post were numbers all related to the eclipse.  Cool stuff -right?  When Charlottesville happened, Five Thirty Eight had days and days of numbers related to this – so much great stuff.  We have no excuses as educators to not bring our students world into our classrooms.

I know you’re scared.  I am too.

The real reason a lot of us math educators don’t bring issues of race/hate/current events into our classroms if we are honest, is we are scared.

We are scared that we will not know how to answer students questions – we all are, do it anyway, but do commit to doing some research with the limited time you have each day.

We are scared that our principals/parents/commuity will politically not like us doing this.  This is a reality for many people.  What does work if this is what your scared of is to check in with your principal and tell them what you want to do in your classroom.  They will tell you concerns if they have any.  Get their blessing.  Find the line where you can push these conversations in the political climate you work in.  My only ask is that you don’t ever do nothing.

We are scared to speak as white people especially on issues of race. – Yep, we need to be aware this, but it can not stop us from starting.  We need to be willing to stumble, apologize and get better as we learn more.  We need to commit to deepening our learning.

We are scared we don’t have all the answers.  The answer is we don’t and no one does.  If we wait for everything to be clear we will be waiting literally forever.  This is complex messy work – do it anyways.

I am scared to blog on this topic, because I know I am not an expert – not even close .  I blogged anyway.  If I don’t start doing something and encourage you to something we will continue this cycle waiting for someone to save us.  We will continue to have students live in classrooms that deny their cultures and communities by our silence.  I am choosing to not let my silence imply that I like what is going on in the world.  I am choosing instead to educate myself and just start before I have all the answers.  I am choosing to be OK with receiving criticism and/or stumbling.

Non-negotiables for Math Educators

I don’t think we can engage in bringing our students culture/communities and world events into our classrooms without committing to several things.  I think all these things are non-negotiable for us.  We (especially every one of us white educators) must engage in ongoing learning.  In my state 98% of the educators are white.  My colleagues of color are weary of having to answer every question on race.  We have a responsibility to learn for ourselves.  We have responsibility to ask questions.  We have a responsibility to act.  We need to get comfortable with discomfort.  We need to have ongoing conversations about our white privilege and how that plays out in and out of the classroom.  We need to identify & dismantle the racist structures we work in. We need to see our own racists beliefs and actions.  So here are my non-negotiables for us all to do this:

  1. We need to follow (on twitter or elsewhere) lots and lots of educators and community members from cultures different than our own.  For me that means I need to follow people who are not white, not Christian, not female, not middle class and middle age.  I also need to follow people who may make me uncomfortable by what they tweet.  I need to read all tweets with an open mind to seeing world events through their lens.  Check who you follow on twitter – do they represent the students you teach?  If you teach in an all white/mostly white school – you still need to do this as you are preparing your white students to live/work in a racially diverse society.  A great place to start is to follow every leader of EduColor.  Then follow who they retweet.  Search the #educolor hashtag and follow people who tweet using it.  Also follow the non-educator POC who are leaders in the communities you live and work in.  One person I follow is Melinda D Anderson.  Here was a recent tweet from her.  This gives me another next-step to investigate and find more ideas for my classroom.  
  2. We need to read, read and read some more to educate ourselves.  This summer I read THESE books.  I next plan to join Annie Perkins book club.  I also read and watch everything I can find online.  We need to listen to podcasts – there is no excuse.  Our education as white educators is free and available from the comfort of our homes.  Here are some resources to learn more about #CharlottesvilleCurriculum – all of these were tweeted out numerous times – but my guess is they were read in greater numbers by Social Studies teachers than by us math teachers – let’s change that.  Commit to reading at least 3 articles in the next 24 hours.
    1. READ THIS:  “If You Think Racism is Too Political For Your Classroom, Think About What Your Silence Says”  By: Sonja Cherry-Paul
    2. and READ THIS from Toni Morrison “Mourning for Whiteness
    3. I have a great principal and he shared this site from ‘Share my lesson’.
    4. From the Washington Post, ‘The first thing teachers should do when school starts is talk about hatred in America. Here’s help.’
    5. From Southern Poverty Law Center – Teaching Tolerance
    6. Melinda D. Anderson (she is one of many people you need to follow on twitter) and others crowd sourced these #CharlottesvilleCurriculum ideas in a google folder.
    7. JSTOR Daily put together a Charlottesville Syllabus with tons of resources – READINGS ON THE HISTORY OF HATE IN AMERICA
  3. You can not do this work alone.  You need someone to talk to daily or each week at minimum.  Find a teacher in your school to connect with – they do not need to teach math.
  4. We need to build relationships with our students.  We need to create socially & emotionally safe spaces in our classrooms.  Don’t sleep on this – this requires intention.
  5. We need to ‘study our students’.  We need to see their assets and build off of what they bring to our classrooms and not focus on deficits.  Watch you and your colleagues conversations on this.  How much time is given to assets vs deficits.
  6. I do have other non-negotiables – perhaps I’ll add them later -but I need to #pushsend now or I never will.  Until next time.

In 2017-18 I commit to adding resources to this blog and/or to add new blogs on this topic.  I am saying this out loud do you all will hold me accountable.

This was a hard post to #pushsend on.  I still would love to hear from you – good or bad.  I am a humble learner and would love your feedback.  I also would love to hear how you will bring current events into our classrooms.  Tweet me at @saravdwerf or comment below.  Please do something.  Do not be silent.  Be brave.  Be forgiving with those of us who are willing to try and get better

8.27.17 UPDATE:  I met up with Jonathan Osters at Math On-a-Stick at the Minnesota State Fair.  In a conversation with Christopher Danielson, Annie Perkins and others he said, “What teachers need to do from the first day, first week of school is to talk about world/state/national/community events.  When we normalize talking about what is going on in the space/world our students live in, then when we want to do a Social Justice themed lesson/unit it will seem normal and part of what we do in our math classes every day.  Every week we need to bring in some number from the world and have students react to it.”  Wow, this made huge sense to me.  Tomorrow is my first day of school.  I plan to find a data point about the Hurricane Harvey floods.  Perhaps the floodwater heights.  If I do this, I plan to visible  measure the height of my classroom to put those numbers in perspective.  I also may bring in data population statistics to see how the community in Houston compares to Minneapolis.  I challenge you to take Jonathan’s challenge.

Additional Update:  I also may use this from Hedge.

Sara VanDerWerf

I am Sara Van Der Werf, a 24-year mathematics teacher in Minneapolis Public Schools. I have taught math in grades 7-12 as well as spent several years leading mathematics at the district office. I currently teach Advanced Algebra at South High School and I'm also the current President of the Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics (MCTM). I am passionate about encouraging and connecting with mathematics teachers. I'd love to connect via twitter.  Join the community.  Tweet me @saravdwerf.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 14 comments