As a math educator at the high school and middle school level, I have lived through the moments when the wrinkles in my students’ eyebrows begin to thaw just a little, and their smiles appear.
“Aha!” moments were often accompanied by elated “I got it!” I call that flash of inspiration, when a lightbulb metaphorically switches on over a student’s head, “luminescence.”
Much of that brilliance surfaced because the lessons my students worked on were designed to encourage student inquiry and prioritize cultural relevance. Some people claim that mathematics is culturally independent, but experience shows that mathematics is not culturally independent. Culture embodies our deepest collective social norms and beliefs and provides a reference point for future learning. The brain understands the world and mathematics. culture.
As a resident math educator at Just Equations, a nonprofit focused on the intersection of math and equity, I study math education and often think about the years I spent in the classroom.
Brain science research is increasingly strengthened The idea is that mathematics instruction rooted in culturally relevant problem-solving helps students draw from real-life experiences, activates different areas of the brain, and creates deep learning that lasts.
Developing learners connected to the community
My geometry students engaged in this type of creative mathematical reasoning during a series of lessons in which they used geometric modeling to solve problems. food apartheid In Lawrence, Kansas.
One of the lessonthe student accessed USDA Food Access Research Atlas To find food deserts in their city. The goal was to develop potential locations for healthy grocery stores or alternative options for fresh, healthy food. The locations identified by the students had to be strategically located for equitable access, taking into account the needs of local residents who are most limited by transportation and low levels of financial support.
During this lesson, students identified bridges as barriers in Lawrence that limit convenient access to healthy, affordable food. In small groups, they described both the physical structures and city policies that have impeded the development of grocery stores in the area and, as a result, maintained food deserts.
Students construct triangles around geographic spaces containing food deserts and apply mathematical concepts to determine whether the triangle’s centroid, circumcenter, incenter, or orthocenter provides the most equitable access to residents. has been identified.
Such lessons encourage mathematical investigation within a community-oriented context and require deep analysis. Students must think holistically about real-world problems and use mathematical tools to arrive at solutions. This process aims to harness not only the brain science behind complex mathematical reasoning, but also students’ passion for making a difference in the world in their own way.
This lesson required spatial reasoning skills that tap into the parts of the brain most closely associated with mathematical thinking. 2018 meta-analysis A functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study of children under 14 years of age found that children’s math performance emerges from areas of the brain associated with number processing, such as the parietal and frontal regions. Proven. What is interesting is that parietal lobe It also integrates sensory information, such as the body’s awareness of where it is in space (including its relationship to itself), creating a spatial mental map that represents the world.
Sensory information is also important in how people develop their sense of identity, their relationship to their surrounding environment, and their sociocultural experiences within that environment. Mathematics grounded in sociocultural contexts therefore helps students understand their world and make connections with new content.
lighting pathways in the brain
The processes that the brain goes through during this kind of mathematical thinking can actually be observed in real time.in study In a 2016 study conducted at Carnegie Mellon University, researchers monitored the brain activity of study participants as they faced complex math problems that required creative mathematical reasoning.
the study identified The four different stages of problem solving (encoding, planning, solving, and responding) involve different areas of the brain. This type of increased brain activity is leads to better performance And the retention rate of learning will be higher.
Just as students engage in creative and constructive processes when learning mathematical reasoning, culturally sensitive mathematics uses culture as a scaffold to build deeper connections. train students’ brain power and improving information processing skills.
Importantly, lessons like the one on food apartheid at Lawrence make math more meaningful by connecting students with important questions about systemic structural, racial, and economic barriers. That’s it. They offer an invitation to analyze how mathematics can be applied to foster civic engagement, advocacy, policy change, and increased access to resources.
Geneva Gay, a professor of education at the University of Washington in Seattle, said: I have written Culturally responsive instruction fosters in teachers and students alike “social awareness and criticism, cultural affirmation, competence, interaction, community building and personal connection, personal self-esteem and competence, and an ethic of caring.” It is said that it is possible. When you foster learning spaces designed to stimulate and inspire curiosity, students begin to develop their own mathematical identities. They come to see themselves as competent learners and practitioners of mathematics and integral members of the mathematics community.
The science suggests that all teachers can utilize these approaches. A wide range of resources are available to help educators bring culturally responsive brainstorming, visual imagery, storytelling, and interactive pedagogy to the classroom. Teachers who do so will not only achieve lasting academic success, but also develop independent lifelong learners.