A recent Star Tribune article (December 6) highlighted Stephanie Woldum and Morgan Fierst, math teachers at South High School in Minneapolis, who are teaching math through a social justice lens. This is a far cry from how most math is taught. In their math courses at South High students examine city demographic data in areas such as race, housing, income and crime statistics. In the wake of the controversy of the police shooting of Jamar Clark this topic is not only timely, but also relevant to the lives of many students at South. In other words, these students are actually part of the data they are examining. When the students have studied and analyzed some of the statistics and data they have been working with they then submit questions that arise as a result. This then leads to further discussions and data analysis. In the end there tends to be many more questions than answers, which is difficult for math teachers as they are used to having one correct answer.
This is a great example how math can and should be taught. It is relevant to the students and they are shown how real life data is used. The same approach could be used for a variety of topics in a math course. Take climate change for example. This is a very complex topic that is not only relevant to all students but it is data rich. There is data around measurement in areas such as volume, temperature and time. Students could analyzed patterns of data, such as global temperature changes over a period of time. They could look at species decline or loss such as the number of polar bears in a certain region or the increase in pestilence. They could graph changes in the thickness of polar ice or glaciers. From this they could learn how to use data to forecast future climate change related events. They could then easily generate informed questions as they relate to climate change data. They might ask questions "How do we know this is caused by humans or is just a natural change in the earths atmosphere?" Or they might want to look at it from a Social Justice perspectives with questions such as "What will happen to the poorest of people if they are forced to move from their land and homes because of global changes in the climate?" How will the migration of millions of climate change refugees affect all of us?" All of these are issues that will have profound affects on all of us and the math class is certainly a place to analyze the data, and not just repeat what is heard in the media.
So kudos once again to Woldum and Fierst and all math teachers who step away from the traditional means of teaching math and give their students a chance to learn and use math in a way that matters and is relevant to them. Hopefully they are leading a trend in how math is taught.