Friday, October 10, 2008

Radical Math

Hey all (and particularly those in education)-- So as I was going through the extensive collection of web links (nearly 1500) that the Tutor/Mentor Connection has compiled to help our students and mentors easily access resources on the internet, I came across one particularly interesting link I'd like to share with you all. I don't know about you all, but I've never really been a math person. This makes it particularly difficult for me to get our students excited about doing their math homework during tutoring sessions, even on the off chance that I actually retained enough trig, calc, agrebra...etc to be able to help them in any meaningful way. For me, and I suspect more than a few others, my distaste for math was primarily because, unlike science or social studies, I didn't really see any potentially useful real-life application of the knowledge, particularly in my more advanced courses. Even if I could utilize trig in real life and figure out how tall a building was based on its shadow, I wasn't convinced that applied trig was going to change the world; Thankfully, the folks at "Radical Math" believe otherwise.

Radical Math is a resource for educators who are interested in integrating issues of social and economic justice into their math classes and curriculum. If you check out you'll find over 700 lesson plans, charts, data sets, graphs...etc that allow teachers to spice up their math instruction by bringing these ideas into the classroom.

So how does one combine social/economic justice issues with math you ask??? Let me give you an example that is currently part of the curriculum at Chicago's own Greater Lawndale/Little Village School for Social Justice.

I'm confident most of my readers are aware of the events surrounding the so-called Jena 6, if not (which is understandable since the trial has been more or less absent from mainstream media), it is summarized on page 4 of this document, which is a lesson plan that uses the Jena 6 to engage students a variety of subjects. The mathmatics component of the lesson plan teaches kids combinatorics (i.e. permutations, combinations n C r..etc) by having students perform such operations as:

Determine the probability of randomly selecting a 12-person, all-white jury from a town
that is 85.6% white, 14.4% people of color (mainly African American), of 2,154 adults
(2000 census)

and then generalizing the formula for combinatorics ( n C r )

This exercise also allows students to investigate the concepts of randomness and what it is like to "think like a mathematician while at the same time seeing how knowledge of fundamental mathematical concepts can lead to greater understanding of complex social justice issues like racism.

This is just one of hundreds of ways that Radical Math's curricula fuses social and economic justice issues with mathematical concepts to increase the relevance and understanding of both among students. Here, you can find some of the other ways they suggest augmenting math curricula with social and economic justice issues such as the following:

Prisons, racial profiling, death penalty
Poverty, minimum/living wage, sweatshops
Housing, gentrification, homeownership
War, defense budgets, military recruiting
Public Health: AIDS, asthma, health insurance, diabetes, smoking
Educational access, funding, testing, achievement gaps
Environment: pollution, hunger, food and water resources
Welfare, TANF

Man I wish my math teachers used some of this curricula instead of boring me out of my gourd for all these years! Have a great weekend everyone and please do a whole generation of kids a favor and tell the educators in your life about Radical Math, it just might help us eventually bring about some real change.

over and out


Tutor Mentor Connections said...

Thanks for sharing this, Chris. There are loads of web sites with creative ideas for engaging youth in math, science, history and geography. We have some in the Links library at

If we can encourage our kids and volunteers to browse these sites and the web, and share their ideas of which sites are more useful, just as you have done here, we can make the library much more useful, and help more kids and volunteers find and use these sites.

If we can encourage other programs to to the same, and blog what they are learning, just as you have, then we expand the knowledge, and the way volunteers and youth are working together via the internet to help each student, volunteer and program be more effective.

I hope some of you who read Chris's blog will spread this message to others in your network.

Anonymous said...

Nice article Chirs, I really like the way to write the article.. and i found so many interesting element in your article... Anyway, thank you so much for the great share ...

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