What Gift Do I Bring?

(Week 4: Final response for #VConHM.  THANK YOU @SamJShah2 and @HKhodai for creating and facilitating this conference to engage ALL OF US in humanizing mathematics. Mad love for you both!

 These quotes guided my thinking and reflection for this post:

“How do we get teachers to develop the capacity to not just become advocates for students but become skilled advocates for students and learn how to push back on the system?” ~Dr. Rochelle Gutiérrez, @RG1gal

“… to bring more humanity back to the math classroom … that helps students recognize that mathematics is a human practice that people practice it in other parts of the world that you can use math as a tool for doing things other than getting good grades in school but maybe analyzing the society.” ~ Dr. Rochelle Gutiérrez, @RG1gal

 “What will be your gift you give to your students?” ~ Usha Shanmugathasan, @MathStudio_Usha

I have sat for days with the goal of finishing my fourth and final post for the #VConHM conference. I have spent decades fearing the written word: the actual product of words, produced by me, written onto a page. There are a million reasons that are fading into the background, becoming less colorful and vocal and more residual and opaque, because I am starting to provide for me, what I have provided for others: safe space.

My ultimate goal for ANYONE with whom I interact is to provide safe space: a place where one is listened to, heard, comforted and loved. So much of our interactions in the world engage in/stem from fear, hate, discomfort and misinformation. Through the many teachings of all the humans with whom I have engaged, including and most prominently my children and the children I have taught, safe space is the gift I want to bring to and share with others.

The teachings of my daughter: My daughter has helped me better understand how to support and learn from people that balance life while managing mental health as a way of being. The teachings of my youth relied on religious beliefs to solve all problems. The idea of mental health, healthy or otherwise, was disregarded and remained secret. I took for granted the ease with which one could move through life and never have to navigate one’s life through a different lens. For my daughter, it was mental health and managing it to be an active participant in life. Living life to its fullest came easy to me. The experiences I observed and shared with my daughter opened my mind to the possibilities of how life was lived differently than what I knew to be normal (middle class, white, cisgender, able-bodied, Christian) And that these experiences were as empowering and beautiful as mine were to me. I am thankful for these teachings. I have been a better support person/teacher/coach/human because I make space for differences that allow the whole human to be seen and heard. I judge less and listen more.

The teachings of my students circa late 1990s: As a young, energetic HS math teacher, I was given many responsibilities in addition to my teaching load: running a computer lab while being the tech support, coaching track, coaching math team and coaching soccer, just to name a few. And, on top of teaching a full load and all the extra-curricular activities, students were in my classroom during lunch, before school, after school and during my prep time. I was a ‘den mother’ of sorts; my classroom became the place where students could BE and share stories, laughter and sorrow. For better or for worse, I was young and naive, but I loved these students as my own. They helped me create boundaries as a teacher vs. being their mother, provide love and comfort in times of need, and LEARN. From two particular students, they taught me that I could not FIX them or their situations, but I could LISTEN, be a caring adult, and help them them navigate their world when their lives were S&*%! They taught me, through thoughts, words and deeds, how to be a better math teacher, mother, woman, human. They inspired me to attain my masters degree in counseling and psychology, but, as I have always said, that degree just continued to help me improve as an educator, specifically when working with teachers and students. I am beyond blessed that, 20 years later, I continue to have a relationship with these two students, as well as many of others, as they have grown and become fabulous adults that continue to share community with me.

The teachings of my students, circa 2019: Now, heading into my 50th year on the planet, I am thankful to continue to be able to spend my days within the confines of educational facilities that host a variety and myriad of amazing young people. I started coaching middle school math teachers about four years ago, and, after 25 years at the high school level, I now ABSOLUTELY LOVE MIDDLE SCHOOLERS! Their humor, innocence, abrupt personality changes, excitement about random things (even learning sometimes) brings me awe, love and patience that I never knew possible. As an older (wiser?) educator, I don’t follow “rules” like I used to, I don’t adhere to “all the policies” as I once did and I definitely let students be more themselves than I have in the past. I had the opportunity to work with a small group of 7th grade boys last year that provided me with a challenge to teach, guide and engage while giving the other teacher an opportunity to teach with ‘less distractions.’ Know that the learning with the group of boys was loud, energetic and possibly physical, but learning DID happen. The highest compliment I was paid was when, trying, yet again, to help guide a particular 7th grader in calming his volume and physicality was, “Yeah, but Ms. Everhart, you’re the only one that let’s me be ME. It’s 6th period and I have been controlling my actions and voice all day! Here I can be myself!” How else do I respond except with more love, kindness and patience.

I am so thankful to still be a part of the educational system. Though I consistently attempt to disrupt the inequalities, racism, and inadequate policies and procedures that plague our current system, I am thankful for my previous and continued learning. I continue to provide positive and human interactions for ALL students and staff in schools. As I continue to unlearn, relearn, read, discuss and reflect, I am beyond grateful for all the people that have been ‘teachers’ for me, as I continue to learn from, grow with and better understand so that I continue to provide safe spaces for ALL the humans with whom I interact.

"At dinner last night, ..."

(Week 3 Mini-Prompt: You mention at a dinner party that you’re participating in a conference on humanizing mathematics. Someone seated next to you says “Humanizing mathematics?!? Mathematics is as far away from the humanities as can be. It’s rational, objective, neutral, apolitical, free from all culture! That’s what makes it a universal language and so powerful!” How do you respond? #VConHM)

1) WE TEACH STUDENTS!!!: I am a very positive and thoughtful person AND I am intense and passionate. I become extremely wary when the statement “We teach math.” is verbalized or flippantly stated. No! We teach STUDENTS! We teach students about math. We teach students the beauty and the curiosity that math creates and instills. We teach students to think mathematically about navigating economic and monetary problems and solutions. We teach students to think critically, discuss passionately and debate thoughtfully about the mathematics that is in and around them. In public discussions around the ‘teaching of mathematics,” I elaborate about what math is taught, why, and how, and to whom. We teach STUDENTS mathematics and they deserve the opportunity to play with it, to make sense of it and create new meaning for themselves.

2) Qualitative vs. Quantitative: So much of mathematics is graded, evaluated and quantified by a number or letter. Yes, statistics is mathematical and you can learn from an analysis of answered questions and/or summarizing data. However, how much does one learn from the written word? Visual art? Conversation? Can these also be used to learn, understand and/or qualify the ideas one shares or creates? Why is the view of mathematics so narrow that A standardized test can determine whether or not a student can learn about trigonometry, attend college classes for credit and/or go to recess? Remember, we teach STUDENTS mathematics…

3) Navigating Identity: “How do you navigate your identity when you are in public spaces?” I pose this question at dinner; six heterosexual, cisgender, middle class white people with various religious affiliations. There is silence. Then, one of the four women begins by sharing a story about managing her voice, body, tone, expressions, in a room full of men, so that they continue to fund her upcoming project. This is an example of navigating one identity (female) that differs from the majority or dominant identity (male) in this particular space. What if you have a variety of identities that differ from the dominant identity that holds the power in the room/school/meeting/society: different sexual orientation, different age, different nation of origin? How does one navigate, build relationships, work collaboratively with others that have different identities and/or, perhaps, different ideas of what success looks like? How can a math classroom be devoid of culture when every single student brings their own unique intersections of identity? How does one learn, feel included, feel they belong in the act of learning if one’s identity is ignored…demeaned…eliminated? Again, we teach STUDENTS mathematics. And math is full of culture and story and identity. Humans, and their identities, must be acknowledged and welcomed in any and all learning spaces. That’s humanizing mathematics!

Belonging in Math Education Spaces

(A lengthy Blog Post for #VConHR, including an extended response from last week’s blog and in response to @PaiMath, and furthering the discussion with @ddmeyer around belonging. I am responding to the Week 2 mini prompt: “Ilana Horn, in her book Motivated, writes: “When I observe in math classrooms, I can usually gauge students’ general sense of belongingness” (p. 30) and then describes actions that she’s observed. What are specific kinds of things that you see and hear that show “belongingness” in classrooms (whether it be your own or others)?”)

8/6/19

My intentional, personal journey with the idea of ‘belonging in math ed spaces’ started in March of 2019. A picture was posted on Twitter, showing four presenters for a state math ed conference. All four presenters were white. The twitter conversations that followed noticed that all the presenters were white and wondered why. Basically, the picture illustrated what frequently happens in math ed spaces (classrooms, teacher cohorts, school staff, higher ed staff and college professors): the picture does not represent the true diversity of math ed spaces and/or BIPOC are not included in the spaces. This issue is not new. The newness was in my learning about it, understanding it and hearing the stories and experiences from BIPOC. For this particular blog post that is focused on the strategies used to create belongingness, I use the words from Dr. Robert Berry (below) to help ground me in the idea and relationship between inclusion, diversity and belongingness.

An extension of these conversations is hosted by @mathedmatters and @berealcoach under the #MathEdEquity starting again this fall (look for a tweet soon).

An extension of these conversations is hosted by @mathedmatters and @berealcoach under the #MathEdEquity starting again this fall (look for a tweet soon).

The twitter discussion that followed was the impetus for my focused learning around the concept of belonging. Last year, I had had the honor and privilege to use Ilana Horn’s book, ‘Motivated: Designing Math Classrooms where Students Want to Join in,’ to facilitate PD for K-4 teachers. This summer, I also used this text to provide professional development for a small group of HS Math teachers in rural MN. (Basically, your book is very versatile, Ilana!) I spent days aligning an 8 hour session to the book, using her resources and applying everything to HS math classrooms. The feedback from the teachers was very positive, including wanting to document some of the strategies in the online district curriculum (different from past feedback).

My goal for this specific blog post is twofold: share how I create a sense of belonging in PD sessions and name specific ideas for classroom teachers. These ideas are from the numerous teachers and educators I follow, listen to, observe and learn from as well as new learning from twitter talks, specifically from #ClearTheAir. I hope something shared in this post resonates with you and you have new questions to ask.

Let’s play with MATH!

Let’s play with MATH!

Welcome! (slide 1): When facilitating, the welcoming slide has an actual picture from the host site or a cartoon gif. For the HS Math PD this past July, I used the graduation picture from the previous spring to, first and foremost, personalize the PD. In addition, we ultimately want our students to successfully graduate from HS. Therefore, I wanted something (pictures are usually low risk entry points) to inspire the teachers (especially over the summer) and remind them of the long-term goal. Graduation is always a celebration. When I do general PD at a conference, I use a comic gif (like the one shown) to, again, reduce the risk of engagement and initiate the idea that we can use humor and play in math…ALWAYS!

Land Acknowledgement (slide 2): To further the idea that, to belong, one must be included, it is important to acknowledge that all the land on which we stand in the U.S. was taken from the indigenous peoples in the early years of our nation. Therefore, I have tried to create land acknowledgements for the places where I present. If you are interested in doing a land acknowledgement, DO YOUR RESEARCH. I gathered a lot of information from many different websites and tried to incorporate many of the steps that @debreese shared here . I post a picture of a map (pre-colonialism ) with the names of the nations that were located on the land before being colonized. I am sharing the slide with the map and the piece I wrote for the land acknowledgement below. (These are from co-presented sessions at the state conference in Duluth, MN 2019)

Adapted from the Four Agreements and Six Conditions from  Courageous Conversations

Adapted from the Four Agreements and Six Conditions from Courageous Conversations

Norms (slide 3):  I use norms in all of the professional development I facilitate. The goal is that everyone’s voice is heard and respected, impact > intent and learning is hard: take risks, stay engaged and be uncomfortable. (similar to classroom norms) Here is one example (left). They are tweaked regularly. Special thanks to @NicoleBridge1 for all years we used a version of these together and continued to learn and grow. And @mochamomma and @ShanaVWhite for having an online Twitter discussion about previous norms used. 

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Opening Activity: Community Building (slide 4-8ish):  I have done this part of the day a number of ways. Typically it’s either questions or pictures that the participants use to tell stories about themselves. For this particular session, participants were asked to find pictures that answer the question, “What does summer mean to you?” It is meant to share low risk personal information with different colleagues, like pictures of pets and adventures, to get to know one another as humans. The ‘All About Me Wall’ noted at the end of this blog is a way to use this idea in classrooms that can span the entire school year.

This is one of the pictures I shared (right).

Pictured: My daughter’s dog, Bear, who loves to jump from paddle board to paddle board on a local lake in Minneapolis, Lake Nokomis (named after Nokomis, the grandmother of Hiawatha in 1910.)

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This slide is the one I use to summarize the community building activity, specifically from the last HS math teacher PD (leading into the Belonging portion of the day). Stories are an excellent way for students and teachers to ‘get to know you’ and share our humanity.

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Math Identity/Story (slides 8-13ish):  Now that we have shared stories from our personal lives, here we begin to share our math stories.

 

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When doing so, we ground ourselves in personal identity and social identity (from @NicoleBridge1 identity presentation) AND that you are more than one thing (Danger of a Single Story @ChimamandaReal )

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I also use a quote from Beverly Daniel Tatum to further ground participants in the ways in which people identify themselves.

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Then participants create their own “Mathography.” This comes from Developing Math Identity. Many teachers have used this in the first week of school and learned SO MUCH about their students’ experiences as mathematicians.

Individual, silent reflection

Individual, silent reflection

Now that participants have centered themselves in identity and math experiences, we take a look at the stereotypes of what the world says math people look like, sound like and act like. Many of the common stereotypes are drawn or listed: nerdy, pocket protector, super smart, male, etc.  Then participants reflect using these questions (left):

 

Ilana Horn (2017) Motivated!

Ilana Horn (2017) Motivated!

Belonging (slides 12-20ish):

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I bring in the voices of other math teachers and how they are creating belongingness in their classroom and with colleagues:

Pictured here is @TheJLV talk from @NCTMSD2019 and his response to creating belonging: the creation of #EduColor

I also share a link to @HKhodai’s https://hemakhodai.com/ a response to this presentation

 

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To transition to thinking about specific ideas to create a sense of belonging for our students, I share this slide as well from @TheJVL presentation:

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Because, from Ilana Horn’s book (left):

 

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What we can NOT control:

· Media portrayal of mathematicians/men/women

· Parent-teacher conferences

· Barbie dolls saying, “Math is hard”

· T-shirts displaying ‘Allergic to Math’

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What we CAN (have some) control:

·       Teaching Strategies

·       Classroom routines and community building

·       Personal Identities

·       Experiences of Teacher

·       What math are we putting in front our kids

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And, finally, a list of strategies for classroom teachers (right):

-All About Me Wall: students share pictures (family, dogs, places) and/or work of which they are proud (all year)

-“All Kinds of Ways to Be Smart!” Book by Judy Lalli, changed my way of seeing all the ways I am smart, rather than “I’m not a _____ person.”

WHEW! You made it! Thank you for taking the time to read some or all of this post!!

Closing Remarks: My learning journey has brought me here: A sense of belonging comes from feeling welcomed and included; one’s voice and humanity is seen, heard and respected. I hope that, in whatever role you serve in the math ed community, you found one new learning within this blog. Please use your new learning to reflect, create and question current math ed spaces so that ALL humans, students and staff alike, believe and feel like they BELONG .

The State of Math

(7/31/19, I did not publish this at the time, but with the mini question from @HKhodai and @samjshah2 for #VConHM, I felt it was time to share. Mini-Prompt: Please share a time when doing mathematics was a dehumanizing experience)

April 30, 2019

I just spent the weekend in Duluth MN. My colleague and I presented all day Friday about inclusivity and diversity in math education. We created a space and time for an Equity Gathering and more than 60 people showed up. To say we were overwhelmed and excited is just the tip of all the emotions we were feeling.

MCTM Equity Gathering 2019

MCTM Equity Gathering 2019

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Fast forward to Monday night. My daughter has been taking Calc 1 at a local university. She asked for my help to study for the upcoming midterm, that will lead right into the final assessment next week. As a former AP Calc teacher, I thought it was a good idea for my daughter and I to collaborate and prep for the upcoming exam. We set aside the entire evening and we were ready to work hard.


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Now, enter all the emotions: excitement, shame, guilt, sorrow…
I have always been that parent that could help my children with math homework. I have worked in the profession for almost 30 years, not including my successful HS and college math work. And then, my child, working two jobs, getting A’s in all of her other university level classes, battling severe anxiety is working with tutors and TAs and not giving up on the math class.  She is failing, but still persevering...until last night.

We sat down and she shared the 30 question review with me. She is not allowed to use a graphing calculator on any assessments and there is not answer key to check our work. As I looked at the problems, my former knowledge of Calculus was not returning easily (it’s been at least 20 years) and by limiting my visual learning and recall, I began to hear the voice…

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“You taught AP Calculus?”

“Were you really qualified to teach such a high level of math?”

“How are you unable to help your own child with her math?”

“And you are a leader in math education?”


We all have our demons. We all have THAT voice. And for me, I have worked hard on silencing and diminishing that voice. But triggers and old shame continue to sideswipe me, even into my 50th year…

AM I WORTHY?

I sit paralyzed at the table while trying to help my daughter, keep my emotions in check and support her in her time of need. My lack of recall frustrate me and shame creeps in. I can feel my daughter’s anxiety mounting next to me and mine is increasing as well.  We read over some problems and I find that I can attempt the last question: A volume problem, rotating two functions around a line. 

So I begin, drawing a picture (because, remember, no graphing calculator). I am able to draw the functions, but I have to find the points of intersection. My daughter and I are working side by side and we get to a quadratic function. We both check to see if we can factor, and we can’t. I run through the other ways I can solve (Oh, BUT NO GRAPHING CALCULATOR), so quadratic formula it is. My daughter’s anxiety is revving up: face whitening, shallow breathing, no words. My daughter moves away from the table to use anxiety reducing strategies as I engage with the math, to prove to me and my daughter, but mostly me, that I can still do this math. I start with the quadratic formula and my solutions are:

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Seriously?!

So now I have to evaluate the entire integral at each of these points (AND NO EFFING GRAPHING CALCULATOR) with the polynomial degree of 5...and one of the now critical numbers is negative…so I’m sure I won’t make any arithmetic mistakes along the way to get to the calculating of The Volume of a 3D object formed by rotating the area of a 2D space formed by two functions.

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So now we are both emotional.  While I am working on the problem with my rusty, recalled arithmetic and algebraic skills, my daughter is emailing her advisor and figuring out how to withdraw. We end the failed tutoring session with a hug, my stated pride for her and all her effort and we begin to watch The Avengers Infinity War (because, you know, we need to still see The Avengers End Game).

I am sharing this personal story because this is the lived experiences of so many children, young people, parents and loved ones in the United States...ALL IN THE NAME OF MATH EDUCATION. 

I am heartbroken.

I am rageful.

I am distressed.

I need us, the math ed community, to STEP UP! 

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Stop perpetuating this false narrative that we all need to take some bulls%^* version of calculus to get through high school, into college and/or at collegiate level to get some degree!

Stop judging the students that have not learned some basic fact when we have technology that can do that math for us!  ASK BETTER QUESTIONS!

Start believing that all students can and DO succeed IN SPITE OF THE MATH ED BARRIERS WE HAVE PUT IN FRONT OF SO MANY OF OUR STUDENTS!

The State of MATH ED IS S%&*! And, if you don’t know that, you are not paying attention.


The best I am going to be ... TODAY!

Happy New Year!  I am coining this year my PRIME year because:

1) I turn 47 (a prime number for all my mathy peeps) and

2) I'm gonna be ME (see it... priME ;). 

As a woman, moving into my upper 40s, it is easy to self-criticize and long for the days (and body) of my younger years.  But, this, being my Prime year, I'm going to accept:

  • The setbacks of physical injuries and use the time to reflect, be patient and love myself as is.
  • The daily struggles of balancing life; be ok in the unbalance for a short time and then, regain my center.
  • Loving myself first and foremost so that I walk through the world with compassion for self and others.

Today, is the best I'm going to be... TODAY.  Tomorrow is a new day and when I enter that day, I will look forward to accepting the beauty and adventure it will provide; and it will be my best.

"We are not perfect human beings, nor do we have to pretend to be, but it is necessary for us to be the BEST version of ourselves we can be.  ~ Satsuki Shibuya"