“As a group of primarily math teachers, what challenges do you feel you face addressing J.E.D.I in your practice and classes?”
First of all, kudos to @tfaucher for asking the perfect question during Saturday’s Cohort meeting. I think that as math teachers, this is probably something we’ve all been struggling with. Sometimes it feels like certain subjects lend themselves more to this work than others...so how do I make it genuine instead of just feeling like I’m checking off a box? We’ve started a task force at our school to collaborate and brainstorm ways to tackle issues of racism, sexism, and prejudice head on. This is awesome, and I’m happy to be a part of it. However, every time I take a step back and ask myself what I specifically am doing in my classes to tackle this issue, I feel like I don’t have an answer. What am I doing?
Honestly, it’s such a complicated and diverse issue that it can feel overwhelming. At times, I feel that it is easy to be so overcome by the enormity of the issue, that the result is essentially inaction.
Then cue Saturday’s face-to-face. I’ve been enlightened by some of the other math teachers ideas, and am so grateful to learn from them. From the pronouns we are using, to the history of math we are talking about (for example the discovery of Pascal’s triangle - thanks @beaton!), they provided me with some great starting points.
This week, we’ve introduced Mathematician Mondays in my grade nine class. We take a few minutes at the beginning of class every Monday to learn about a different mathematician. We have three main questions we discuss:
1) Who are they and what do they do with math?
2) Why are they inspiring
3) What can we learn from them?
Now, I don’t know if you have ever googled “famous mathematicians”, but a quick search essentially provides you with a stream of primarily white males. Women and people of colour are significantly underrepresented in the math world. I want my students to see all the cool things people are doing with math. I want them to see that there are so many different career paths and hobbies that math can lead to. I want students to see that anyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or ability can find success in mathematics. Someone shared a few awesome resources on our Cohort Jamboard outlining mathematicians of colour and women in STEM that I will definitely be using for our mathematician Monday discussions. Does this mean I will never share biographies of white male mathematicians? Of course not. I will however, be striving to expose my students to a diverse group of people, doing diverse things in mathematics. Representation matters.
So here’s our first mathematician.
- She recognizes how difficult it can be to ask for help when you are struggling with math (or ANY class), especially when you feel out of place.
- Nobody wants to feel like they are the only one who doesn’t understand…
- She also recognized that the best way for her to understand was to ask for help, and she reached out to her professors when she needed to. Asking for help is totally okay!
- It’s hard feeling out of place. We should all work together to make sure that everyone feels welcome.
- She now has a pretty awesome job, and is doing what she loves - with MATH!
One thing I will never tire of is being surprised by how insightful a group of 14-year-olds can be. I told them we would be doing this every Monday morning, and they seemed keen. In fact, they asked if they could choose some of the mathematicians. They are now each responsible for creating their own SlideDeck on a mathematician of their choosing who inspires them and that we can learn from. I’m excited to see what they will come up with, and am hoping we end up with a diverse collection of people who inspire our grade 9 mathematicians!
I know this is a minuscule step in my journey to address diversity, equity and inclusion into my practice. But don’t big journeys usually start with small steps? I guess, I’d rather be moving forward than continue to be stationary. So cheers to small steps, and cheers to Mathematician Mondays.