The paths to "Eureka" moments: Teaching Mathematics in Secondary Education

Below is a paper written about my experience through an “Action Project.”

For my Diversity in the Classroom class, I given an assignment in which I was asked to dress out of the norm, even to the extreme, so that I appeared different from all of those around me. The assignment was to go to a public place for 2 hours and observe how I was treated and how other chose to view me. The experience was eye opening. I was different from the crowd for only 2 hours, yet I was more than greatful to change into normal attire and blend in with the crowd. This experience gave me a very small taste of what it is like to be a minority in the crowd. Something that will prove useful in the classroom.

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Action Project at North Gate

In order to get a sense of what it feels like to be stand out in a crowd, to be different from those around me, I changed my appearance to be drastically different than the social norm. First, I painted large black spots on my face. One spot even encompassed my right eye. Next, I arranged my hair so that I had four short “pony-tails” sticking out in various directions. Finally, I dressed in a grey poka-dot sweater and black –spotted boots.

Once my costume was complete, I headed out to the North Gate Mall where I knew I was sure to draw attention from the multitudes of Saturday afternoon shoppers. The mall was busy, and I was able to walk from store to store and be observed by people from all backgrounds. I spent two hours in the mall, plenty of time to feel the stares and second glances of those around me.

            As I walked around, I could feel people looking at me. Some did a double take and attempted to pretend that I wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Those of the older generation gave me looks of a more sympathetic nature as if to say, “Poor girl doesn’t realize how silly she looks.”  What I did not expect was the occasional positive attention that I received. There were a few times when people made comments about how, “more people should dress like you” or “I like your face”. This was rather strange, but as I began to think about it, I realized that I stood out. I was not “ordinary” but unique.

Regardless of the looks and comments of the crowds, I felt different. I couldn’t enter a store without feeling uncomfortable and self-conscious. I felt beneath others. I would have much preferred to look the same as everyone else. I was constantly attempting to avoid eye contact and pretend that I could fit in with the other shoppers. I can’t quite imagine having those feelings all the time. It would be emotionally draining. I think I would feel as if I needed to put up some sort of “front”, masking my feelings and pretending as if I didn’t feel any different.

This activity will definitely impact how I choose to address diversity in my classroom. Cultural awareness is one subject that I will highly value. As a math teacher, I will not have quite as much freedom to explore multiculturalism through the school curriculum, yet there are a few ways that come to mind which I will attempt to implement.

Equal, fair, and respectful treatment will be sought for each student in my classroom. The use of racial, religious, or cultural slurs will not be allowed. Such behavior and words hurt students and parents in ways damaging to their self-esteem and self-image and is similar to a slap in the face (Oesterreich). Students will treat each other with respect regardless of their differences. 

It is my hope that the classroom setting will be one of community. Students will work together on projects and group assignments.  This will not only promote learning from social interaction, but will provide opportunities for students to learn from one another. People of different cultural backgrounds may think differently or describe events in different ways. This will allow for students to broaden their perspectives and appreciate other points of view.

Though sometimes parents are the last on the list of issues involving multiculturalism and diversity, it is important to recognize the home life of each student to understand them better. Differences like first languages, traditions, parent literacy, and even common foods in the household will affect students and their learning. It will be important that I am a student of culture, even as a teacher. I will be meeting with parents regularly and communicating their child’s academic progress. By being a student of culture, I will be able to better communicate and understand reactions and feedback I get from parents.

The Action Project has shown me that it is not always fun to be “different” or “unique” when you feel like it would be much better to be like everyone else. Unlike in my case, students cannot change the way they look with soap and water. Instead, they must adapt to their surroundings. Often it seems many students will try to draw the attention away from their differences by what they wear, the make-up they apply, or even the jokes they tell. Rather than try to ignore the differences in my classroom, I hope to engage students in their uniqueness by drawing attention to their strengths and abilities, and equipping them with tools to develop their minds. 

Specifically in the math setting, the history of certain math concepts can be used to introduce people of different cultures. For instance, the Pythagorean Theorem was derived by a man named Pythagoras, a Greek who lived in the 6th century B.C. (Haenisch 80). Using this a discussion topic, I further describe the time and society in which Pythagoras lived and compare it the community in which we live today. This is just one example of a single mathematician, yet there are many men and women from different cultures and backgrounds who contributed to our knowledge of mathematics. Teaching students about these people will give them an understanding that they are learning about a worldwide subject that extends beyond the classroom. 

To build on the universal understanding of mathematics, I would very much like to engage my students in a math project which would affect other students of a different nationality. At the mathematics conference that I attended in October of 2010, I attended a session in which a teacher described how he and his class of junior high students created, designed, and published a small math textbook which they then sent to a foreign country where math textbooks were scarce. This not only allowed for the students to reach out and help other students in need, but provided an opportunity for them to learn about other cultures and what school looks like in other countries. Projects like these will help students to recognize and appreciate the beauty of diversity.

The Action Project at North Gate gave me perspective of what it is like to be different. I only looked different for a few hours, but knowing that some of my future students may have the same feelings of embarrassment and discomfort motivates me to make my classroom a place of community.  I hope to use this experience effectively in my classroom to show students the value of differences in people and model equal, fair, and respectful behavior towards others.   

References

Haenisch, Siegfried. (2004). Lesson 9: The Pythagorean Theorem. Algebra. (pp. 80) Minnesota: Algebra.

Oesterreich , Lesia. (1995). Insensitivity to Physical, Racial, or Ethnic Differences. The National

Extension Service Children Youth and Family Educational Research Network. Retreived from : http://www.pbs.org/kcts/preciouschildren/diversity/read_insensitivity.html

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