I typed up 20 pages of notes at MSRI’s Critical Issues in Math Education conference (Access to mathematics by opening doors for students currently excluded from mathematics), so rather than putting it all on one blog post, I’ll separate them into little blog posts.
The point of this conference is to talk about math equity. How can we make our math classroom more equitable?
One of the first things we talked about was “Who are the gatekeepers?” Who is standing in the way of having a fair math education? Was it the teachers? Peer pressure? Counselors? The system?
We then had an activity to write and share our math story in hopes of getting to these questions:
- What social, structural/institutional, and individual forces have helped you to be successful in your experience with learning mathematics?
- What social, structural/institutional, and individual forces has served as obstacles in your experiences with learning mathematics?
- What values of the mathematics community resonate with you and that you uphold in your professional work? What values of the mathematics community trouble you and are possible sites for change in your professional work?
Robin Wilson gave his story, saying that in Pre-algebra, he got an “A” the first semester and a “C” the second semester, yet his counselor made him retake Pre-algebra the following year. To him, his counselor was a gatekeeper. In our group, someone was mentioning that her teacher started to track in 5th grade which determined who would take the higher-level math and who wouldn’t. To her, teachers were the gatekeeper.
Here is my math story:
My first memory of doing math was in Kindergarten rolling dice to see how many base-10 blocks we would receive. We would exchange ones with tens, tens with hundreds. I loved it. My next memory would be in 2nd grade, doing a timed test. For me, I LOVED timed tests. I loved the competition. I remember breathing really loudly as if that made me go faster and the class would tell me to be quiet (understandably so). I had the same high school math teacher all 4 years, Mr. Trejo, and he made me really enjoy math. He would post grades on the wall in order from highest to lowest (only showing ID number) and I would always want to be at the top.
I came to Fresno State as a Biology major because I wanted to be a doctor. After realizing that I couldn’t see myself being happy as a doctor, coupled with wanting to take Calc 2 just for fun just because I wanted to see where math kept going, I decided to change my major to math.
Unfortunately, throughout college, I saw math as something to memorize. I thought that to be successful at math, you just need to memorize formulas, definitions, and theorems. Even though I did well, I didn’t really appreciate math for what it was.
It wasn’t until I co-taught with Diana Herrington where I fell in love with math and math education. She showed me that there’s a different way of teaching and that math should be creative.
A struggle that I had throughout my mathematical journey was that everyone expected me to do well simply because I was Asian. Even getting a master’s I had a couple people shrug it off, saying that it was obvious that I was going to get one, or that I didn’t have to work hard for it. I know I’m not alone. I have had several Asian Americans come to me during office hours prefacing their talk with “I know I’m Asian but I struggle with math.”
I have told 4 of my classes to write their math stories in hopes that I can see their struggles and talk about what we can do to make math a more equitable classroom. I know there are some that believe that math should just be about cold hard facts, but the cold hard fact is that some students feel like they do not belong in the math community, or they feel like they were marginalized because of who they are and/or what they look like.
Thank you for reading.