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Publication Detail
Teaching mathematics for social justice: meaningful projects for the secondary mathematics classroom
Abstract
The aims of the book: This book is aimed at a range of teachers of mathematics and numeracy including those who are committed to addressing issues of social justice in their classrooms and want some ideas for how to go about pursuing this objective. It is also aimed at those who are intrigued by the idea that the terms ‘social justice’ and ‘teaching mathematics’ can be strung together in the same sentence and wish to find out more. The ideas behind the book are based on the premise that conventional approaches to teaching mathematics, whilst encompassing much excellent practice, do not adequately address all learners’ needs, or the needs of society as a whole. Many students feel alienated from a subject too often presented as a collection of rules and procedures to be applied in contrived and unrealistic contexts. Whilst ‘standards’ and examination results may appear to be rising, the perceived lack of relevance and meaning of mathematics for many students leads them to choose not to study the subject beyond the compulsory stage (currently up until age 16). The disempowering and individualistic ways in which it is commonly taught mean that negative attitudes and anxiety towards mathematics, exhibited by large sections of the general public, are perpetuated from one generation to the next. Significant differences persist between the mathematical achievements of various groups within society. Mathematical achievement and the socioeconomic background of students remain inextricably linked. The starting point for this book is therefore that the status quo in mathematics education, as described above, must not be taken as given. The book proposes alternative ideas and approaches to teaching mathematics with the potential to change and improve the current situation. What is teaching mathematics for social justice? The term ‘social justice’ is a seemingly uncontentious one. After all, who would argue for ‘social injustice’? However, it has been interpreted in many different ways by various authors and it is important to establish precisely how it will be used, in the context of mathematics teaching, within this book. Teaching mathematics for social justice is taken here as encompassing the following five aspects of practice: • Adopting collaborative problem-solving approaches to learning mathematics that promote discussion and the engagement of all learners; • Recognising and building upon mathematics learners’ real-life experiences so that they appreciate the relevance and meaningfulness of the subject; • Encouraging learners to engage in mathematical activities that enable them to develop greater understanding of their social, cultural, political and economic situations; • Facilitating mathematical investigations that develop learners’ agency, enabling them to make decisions about the direction of their learning and to take part in social action; • Developing a critical understanding of the nature of mathematics and its position and status within education and society. Background to the book In May 2013, a research group was established comprising five teacher researchers, all based in London comprehensive schools, and myself as university-based researcher. Over the next 15 months we worked collaboratively, adopting a participatory action research methodology, to develop teaching ideas and approaches that were aimed at translating theories on teaching mathematics for social justice into classroom practice. Details of the research element of the project can be found in various journal articles and my doctoral thesis (see links from the following website: http://maths-socialjustice.weebly.com/). The teacher researchers felt strongly that our experiences, ideas and classroom tasks that we developed, should also be shared more widely amongst mathematics teachers. Hence this book! Since the ideas originated collaboratively from the whole group, we agreed that I should edit the book but that all royalties would be donated to Global Justice Now, an organisation whose aims resonate with those of the research group. One of the central ideas underpinning the project was that the development of teaching ideas and approaches should be informed by recent research findings. The group spent a significant amount of time engaging with research relevant to teaching mathematics for social justice, before planning and evaluating teaching ideas and approaches. The key research ideas that the group focused on have been summarised in six short research articles spread throughout the book. These are designed to provide insight and guidance for mathematics teachers in order to help them to further research and develop their own classroom practice. I would urge readers of the book to engage with these research articles as well as the teaching ideas and learning activities described in the task sheets and teachers’ notes. The structure of the book: Teaching ideas and learning activities developed by the research group have been organised into seven projects within the book. Each project includes a series of classroom tasks and teachers’ notes that reflect the discussions that took place during research group meetings. Given the focus of the book, it is particularly important to stress that the task sheets are not designed to be used in isolation and they should be used in conjunction with the teachers’ notes. It is a combination of the ideas from the task sheets and the input of the teacher, informed by the teachers’ notes (and the research articles), which will result in students engaging in activities with the potential to address issues of social justice in the mathematics classroom. It is anticipated that the classroom activities will be suitable for students in Key Stages 3 and 4 mathematics classrooms, for those studying the new core mathematics curriculum, and for those on post-compulsory numeracy courses. The opportunities for learning in each unit are therefore summarised in a non-specific way so that they can be adapted to different curricula. The notes and rich questions, as well as the possible extensions, are designed to capture as much as possible of the experiences of the research group. They are written in a style that allows teachers to use the ideas in a flexible, creative and non-prescriptive way. The teachers’ notes include brief case studies that provide further insight into the activities the students engaged in by capturing some of the experiences of three of the teacher researchers: Anna, Brian and Rebecca (pseudonyms). I hope you make good use of, and are inspired by, the ideas in this book and that your interest in teaching mathematics for social justice does not stop here! Pete Wright Lecturer in Mathematics Education UCL Institute of Education
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