Math Mondays: The Power of Teaching (Beyond the content)

I try to keep it  practical here on Math Mondays.  Most of the time I write about teaching techniques and activities and projects.  I give  a little window into my classroom.  But we don't teach in a bubble.  The marches, rallies, anti-immigration policies, hate and hope have filled my thoughts.  My students are anxious. They want to talk about what's going on.  Math, frankly, seems a little out of touch to them even as we embark on a new semester, one so important for many of them who will be applying to college this Fall.  So, I hope you will forgive me if I get a little serious in the post.  I promise to bring back the fun next post.

The day after the inauguration, my tribe and i marched with millions around the world in the Women's March. Many students I know marched as well. It felt in some ways empowering to stand as a united force against the hate.  The march drew so much support that my students wanted to talk about it and the executive orders coming in quick succession.  I've never before had students so interested in government actions.

While we really didn't have time to stop our normal curriculum,  I decided that was just we were going to do.  Teaching is at its essence not about getting through the curriculum. Teaching is about shaping future generations; it's about providing a safe haven for students to grow up.  It's about helping children make sense of the world around them.  It's about listening to what they need.

So, we talked about the Women's March. We discussed the amount of people affected by defunding the ACA. We looked at the number of Syrian refugees that potentially are affected by closing our door to them. We talked about the power of numbers to tell a story.

And then to give students some real world application of this, we "played" with data.  I went home and quickly collected data on election results, attendance at inaugurations, presidential popularity, protest marches and immigrants.  I created a spreadsheet with the data and included links to several more websites where students could look at other data if they wanted. 

I challenged students to look for relationships between the data. We asked questions and tried to answer them. It was a fascinating exercise.  For example, students could discern from the national park service information that attendance at each of obamas inaugurations was higher than at trumps.  Some were surprised by the large difference of what happened, and the repeated attendance by the Trump administration that they had the biggest attendance ever.  Students also found that sometimes the data doesn't tell the whole story. Looking at the percent of popular vote did not have a strong correlation with the electoral college percent over the past 10 or so elections.  

My students were so inspired that they launched a "data fact check" board.  Students find claims by media, government officials, etc. related to specific numbers, and then they investigate the claim.  If it is true, they mark the statement true.  If it isn't true, they show the information that disproves the claim.  My students probably will remember these activities better than all our other projects.

All this is simply to say that as we go forward I'm reminded that no matter what happens, as a teacher, I play an important role in these kids' lives.  Policy is only as good as its implementation.  And when my students and I convene we have the power to discuss shape and prepare for whatever the world may bring.  And we can use math powerfully to do just that.

Math Mondays is a bi-weekly blog post (2nd and 4th Monday of each month) sharing tips, ideas, resources, and products for teaching math.  If you have questions or think there is something I should include, you can leave me a message in the comments section below or at the store in the question and answer section.



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