Equity & Play: The Future of Math Education

By in expert-voice, Our experts

Too often our greatest experiences leave us breathless. This was the case after spending over a week in San Diego for the Annual National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics(NCSM) and National Council Teachers of Mathematics(NCTM) Meetings.

Understandably then, one only tries to reach for only a few words that not only summarize the experience, but also anchors the mission going forward.

Those two words are equity and play.

 

While these words have now been elevated to academic discussions, their origins come from the only place where ideas have the greatest potential to be profound and everlasting: our hearts. At large conferences like these, it is not too difficult to be overwhelmed by the collective passion and love from math educators–especially towards making needed and courageous changes.

They have gone from abstract ideas of the heart to non-negotiable ideas in drafting future curriculum.

My personal experience of this joyous energy from thousands upon thousands attendees was a unique combination of being at the Buzzmath booth and speaking four times over the course of the week, culminating with my IGNITE Talk at NCTM in front of a large room filled to capacity.

The whole week started with a wonderful equity dinner that Chris Shore(CMC-South) and I organized. Chris and I met for the first time back at 59th Annual CMC-South Conference in Palm Springs. He took up my “challenge” of asking a white male to devote a workshop to equity issues. Immediately after his workshop, we felt compelled to keep the conversation going in San Diego, invite more people, and go even deeper.

The following picture was tweeted out by Dee Cresticelli, Director of Kentucky Centre of Mathematics, who attended the dinner and told an emotionally powerful story of poverty and discrimination.

That dinner, while wholly revealing, also told everyone sitting at the table, that so many more stories of equity need to be shared and emotionally absorbed before lasting changes to math education can be made. Naturally, I carried back the discussions back to our Buzzmath Team, who are also on their own journeys of understanding the depth of equity in math education. The transmission of that evening back to my colleagues energized us for the whole week, especially since we always speak passionately about how teaching math history is a critical part of math education.

 

Adding energy to our booth was the fact that Buzzmath gave away 200 copies of Math Recess! The entire premise of the book is centred on giving students time and space to play with mathematics.

 

 

There is almost a tribal movement of equity and play. But, that only makes sense since each of those ideas depends heavily on the power of the collective in enhancing each of those humanistic endeavors.

Only together are we better.

And, where math education needs to get better is addressing the deepest ideas of equity and play. These were the thematic words in all my presentations. And, they were all punctuated with the ending of my IGNITE Talk. During the whole presentation, I held a piece of paper. The audience must have thought that these were notes that I might have to refer to during my 5 minute talk. No. The paper was blank. It was a prop used for my 16th slide. As that slide appeared, I raised the blank piece of paper and told the audience that this belongs to ALL of you.

In order for equity and play to have the greatest impact in math education, we have to start again–and reimagine a completely new landscape of learning. The current performance culture of constant testing and narrow goals of career objectives is hardly the fertile soil for equity and play. Truth be told, it will never be.

 

We must find a new land. It won’t be easy. It won’t occur anytime soon. But, we have reached a critical point in math education of acknowledging the importance of equity and play. The future of building and scaling these most human ideas of learning will take much of this century.

 

Going back has been thankfully removed as an option…