Today we at the Northern Ontario Math Association (NOMA) had our first summer book club meeting. Instead of reading a book together, we are finding resources on the Internet we can read for free – things we can get without having to wait for delivery!
Today we discussed a webinar found on TheLearningExchange called “Teaching Math Through a Social Justice Lens”. I highly recommend this learning series. It is basically a problem-based math teaching approach. Students are using real-world numbers to think about real-world problems with a social justice focus. In this exact case, the students were mostly focused on an inquiry that had them wondering about their shoes – where in the world do they come from, who makes them, how much are those people paid to make them, etc.
Preparing for this has had me thinking about some social justice issues I could cover in my primary class. We study water in science, so it would be interesting to do something with water bottles – collect data on the number of bottles used in our school, how much we save by using refillable bottles, what is the environmental impact on not only using them but having them delivered to your local store, what is the financial impact on buying disposable water bottles…etc. I definitely need to think more about possible topics, but I also want to make sure I am paying attention to what my students are interested in.
The great thing about a book club is that other people think of things that I don’t. In our conversation there were a few important things that were brought up. Some of the issues might be upsetting to families who feel the teacher is trying to push their own political agenda. Some issues might be upsetting to students (we talked about all the amazing data related to Covid-19, for example, which our students might not be ready to analyze in the next year…or more!) And we have to make sure we are still teaching math and not just doing these projects that use the math. We want them to have a certain sense of exploration and problem solving, but we also need to make sure they know how to do all the necessary calculations for their particular developmental needs and grade level.
One of the big hurdles for me in my own thinking and teaching has been how to come up with projects that have my students doing math, literacy, science, social studies across the day instead of each happening in their own separate, compartmentalized time block. I have this figured out with literacy, but math…I’m still working on it. As I watched this webinar I feel like I have a new understanding of how to create inquiry problems that students could work on all day and still hit all the topics. Now, I do think I wouldn’t jump right into this in September (though maybe with the right problem I could…) and I definitely think I will need to still have a time set aside on most days when we are focused on learning to do calculations. But I’m thinking of some social justice and global citizenship issues that could really take over the class (in a good way!) for a solid week.
I’m also still trying to wrap my head around having students part-time in school and part-time at home but still working and I think this integrated approach would be a good way to have them working at home on things besides worksheets.
I’m still thinking through all of this! But the book club was a good way for me to consolidate some of my thinking…and it gave me more to think about!
Caswell, B., Stewart Rose, L., & Doura, D. (2011). Teaching Mathematics With a Social Justice Focus. Inquiry into Practice: Reaching Every Student Through Inclusive Curriculum, 81–88. https://wordpress.oise.utoronto.ca/robertson/files/2017/03/Teaching-Mathematics-with-a-Social-Justice-Focus.pdf