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David Stocker

Title:  Math for peace and social justice: maththatmatters    

Session presenters:  David Stocker

Organization: Teacher, Toronto District School Board

Contact information:  david.stocker@tdsb.on.ca

Brief description of workshop:

After a quick vaudeville style commentary on the state of math textbooks today, particularly with respect to the content of the math problems, we look at the way to transform “pizza party” math into math that matters. Race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, war and conflict and other justice topics are used as the content material for hands-on activities to show how math can be (and should be…) used to make sense of the students’ lived experiences.

Workshop goals:

Specifically math related:

  • To help educators see that we do harm to students when we teach math that is irrelevant to students’ lives.
  • To help educators see that doing math that is relevant to students means that we need to replace ‘pizza party’ math content with issues that matter- issues of justice.
  • To raise awareness that math and social justice are intimately connected- mathematical skills are necessary to understand the world in meaningful ways.
  • To help educators, through hands-on activities, to see that linking math and justice is not particularly difficult.

In general:

  • To help educators see that talking about issues that matter is hopeful because it allows students to imagine possibilities.
  • To talk about teaching controversial issues and the likelihood that you’ll raise eyebrows: and that education should be about raising eyebrows.
  • To help educators to see that all perspectives have bias and that we want to help students analyze different perspectives and figure out based on evidence which perspectives have more credibility.
  • To talk about the idea that discussing real issues can make people uncomfortable- you do this in a safe environment- but don’t seek to avoid making people uncomfortable, because that’s when you can get meaningful learning (optimal discomfort).
  • To suggest that best practices mean trying to avoid ‘soft liberal’ and token approaches to justice- that we must instead focus on underlying issues, connections between justice topics and do so in a sustained way.

Strategies used:

  • Hands-on math activities that are linked to justice to help people experience what the classroom might feel like and look like and sound like.  Activities span the five curriculum strands in mathematics to help people broaden the possibilities for lessons.
  • Drama- acting out real life relationships between powerful and less powerful people, using mathematics to provide support for the drama.
  • Discussion- about the philosophy, about the concerns that people have, and about the successes that we can have teaching math and justice together.

Two key resources that support our work:

Stocker, David. (2007). Maththatmatters: a teacher resource linking math and social justice. Ottawa: CCPA Education Project.  Here, David Stocker has crafted 50 thoughtful and accessible lesson plans designed for grades 6-9. The two objectives are: 1) To offer math activities that can be used to teach and reinforce the math skills that teachers are required to have their students learn. 2) To provide content that captures and increases student interest in justice, fairness and kindness, replacing purposeless content that furthers no student's ability to engage with their social reality.

Gutstein, Eric and Bob Peterson (Eds.). (2005). Rethinking Mathematics. Milwaukee: Rethinking Schools Ltd. http://www.rethinkingschools  This unique collection of more than 30 articles shows teachers how to weave social-justice principles throughout the math curriculum, and how to integrate social-justice math into other curricular areas as well. Rethinking Mathematics presents teaching ideas, lesson plans and reflections by practicing classroom teachers and distinguished mathematics educators.

Issues which we continue to struggle with in our own pursuits of educational activist goals:

  • It seems that I’m working backwards- the curriculum expectations are driving the lessons, rather than the experiences of the students driving the lessons. I have to do a lot of work to try to focus first on the needs and interests of the students’ lives and then from there find the expectations that I can report on.
  • I struggle constantly with balance- trying to be a present and very involved dad, and still be able to teach full time. This is my biggest struggle.
  • I feel constantly like I’m questioning whether what I’m doing is actually transformative, or simply perpetuating the status quo.

Next steps (E.g., What kinds of supports [theoretical or practical] that may enhance our ongoing or future practice):

  • Supportive administrators and colleagues really enhance the practice.
  •  Having time to speak to other educators, which requires funding to pay for release time.
  •  Feedback from the field, particularly with the book, is crucial to know how it’s going and what modifications need to be made, what key messages need to be conveyed.

Big idea that we want people to walk away with:

Mathematics is an excellent tool for “making the invisible visible”. When we do equity and social justice work, we look at voices that are marginalized- typically invisible. Mathematics is a powerful language to describe the real world, and has the power to help students transform their worlds.

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