Liberation Math Week 5: Becoming Creators

English: Counting 1-10 work book page for numb...

Counting 1-10 workbook page (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week in Liberation Math, participants in the class made a start at creating a book. The form is still uncertain (online? printed? both?), but we are going to use the book to put forth our best thinking about how to change mathematics education and how to change ourselves. The current outline of the book can be found in this google doc and includes the chapters:

  • Preface/Intro Section
  • Chapter 1: We are all makers
  • Chapter 2: Mindset
  • Chapter 3: How technology influences our use of math
  • Chapter 4: Re-imagining the way in which problems are communicated/solved

I’m excited and invigorated by all of the new ideas floating around, and can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with. I hope that we’ll be engaging with people outside the class that can help with the topics we’ll be writing about. For that, we people to engage with us, too read our writing, to give comments and suggestions, and to add ideas. We’d love to have you join us!

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Makers, Doers, and Liberation Math

There’s a growing interest out in the world in making cool things, particularly with technology. Commonly called the “maker movement,” this trend has its roots in tinkering with technology and computing in ways that move the creation of things out of the hands of manufacturers and into the hands of real people. There is a magazine, MAKE, devoted to this movement, and Maker Faire‘s all over the place where people come together in community to learn, share, and show off stuff that is made by real people. The president of the United States even mentioned 3D printing in his state of the union address in February — this used to be a technology that existed only in the manufacturing sector, but MakerBot, Shapeways and others have brought the technology to makers so that we can all play. And making isn’t just people who already know what they are doing — thirteen-year-old Lauren Rojas recently gained YouTube fame for her video of a rocket she built and launched.

I’ve been starting to ask myself who gets to be a maker. Yes, I know, its a grassroots movement, so of course the answer is “anyone.” But it isn’t really anyone. At the right is what the Maker Faire people put out MakerFaireDemographics in terms of demographics to get sponsors, so you can see that, as you might have guessed, this movement is fairly male and pretty well-funded. MAKE magazine is even more extreme, with subscribers being 90% male. So we should be talking about access, equity, and justice issues. Some people are talking (for instance here and here), but we certainly need more.

But there are more than just access issues involved in who becomes a maker, or, more broadly, a doer. I started thinking through a mind map of the issues last night in my weekly Liberation Math class, and it morphed into the diagram below.

Diagram of Resources, Community, and Self

Now, you might be wondering what place this all has in my math class. Certainly the maker movement is exerting and influence on STEM (“science, technology, engineering, and math”) education, so that’s a part of it. But more than that, liberation math is all about becoming a maker and a doer. I’m trying to fight against the idea that students are empty and powerless vessels for the knowledge and excitement that I already have. I want people to rise up and take charge of their own mathematics, to become powerful doers and makers of mathematics. Part of this power is the power to decide. People might decide to do very little math, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  So long as people are in community and have resources, they can step back from math without losing their ability to make and do. When people need the math, it is always there, and they can access it again through accessing their networks, taking advantage of learning and skill-building opportunities. It is only when students are stuck in the middle of oppressive curriculum that you fall off the edge of the world, doomed to be lost forever if you step away from math. People who are standing in a place of power, safety, and courage can always find a route to access and use the mathematics that they need.

Liberation Math: Call to Action

Josef Fixing a Bike on the Ride

Josef Fixing a Bike on the Ride (Photo credit: mikeywally)

There are problems with math education, and there is no lack of suggestions for how to change things for the better. Some of those suggestions have great potential, but the solutions come from the people who have made their careers in mathematics and math education — from people who love math. We need a different group of people working on the solutions to mathematics education. We need people who struggle with math, people who hate math, people who have been so turned off they avoid math, people who have been told that they aren’t capable of learning mathematics. In other words, we need a space for the outsiders, the large group of people who have have either been shut out of conversations about math education, or who have left those conversations out of frustration. Its this disenfranchised group that best knows what is wrong, and who I believe can come up with solutions that speak to people like themselves, rather than speaking to people who are already successful in the current system of mathematics education.

Monday, in the Liberation Math class, we brainstormed some ideas for how to change the world. I invite you to read our ideas and add your own ideas right at in this document. Don’t be shy! If has never worked for you, I challenge you to say what didn’t work and to dream of another world. This week, class members will be picking some ideas and fleshing them out, figuring out how we can actually impact mathematics education.

Please, add your ideas either in the google doc, in the comments below, or via a tweet with the hashtag #LibMath (this is a shortening of the hashtag #liberationmath, which is restricting our character count too much!). I’ll be posting readings and a summary for the week next.

Come check out Liberation Math

I’m having a great time teaching a new class, Liberation Math, this semester. It’s a powerful class in which we are engaging in a critical exploration of mathematics education, mathematical identity, and the place of mathematics in our lives. If you are curious, check out the website where you will find blog posts and lots of food for thought. Make comments, ask questions, and follow the hashtag #liberationmath on twitter.

Liberation Math: Week 2

This week’s in Liberation Math, we’ll be analyzing memories using a method known as memory-work, which you can read more about in last week’s readings. In the in-person class, we’ll be doing memory work, as well as debriefing the first week and figuring out what may need to be changed about the course.


Mathematics (Photo credit: Terriko)

The readings for this week are:

  • Memories from participants. This is an interesting collection of memories of mathematics and highly recommended reading. Would love any comments what strikes you in these, especially commonalities, anything that seems to be missing or contradictory, and how authors’ construct themselves and others in these memories. We’ll be posting about memory work process later in week
  • TED video from Dan Meyer on Math Education. This is a great video for thinking about what we are doing and what we might want to do with mathematics education. What resonates with you? What rubs you the wrong way.
  • Chapter 1 of Sheila Tobias, Overcoming Math Anxiety. This is a great book by Tobias, who was a pioneer in looking at math anxiety

Which of these readings “land” for you and reflect something that you see in education, something that you want in education, or something that you definitely don’t want in education? Do they point to one strategy for teaching and learning math, or do they suggest different routes and even different destinations? What is your take?

Liberation Math Week 1: Welcome!

Welcome to the first week of Liberation Math. Over the next 13 weeks, we are going to explore mathematical identities, the way that those identities are constructed, and how mathematics and math education interact with our culture. During this course, we will be collectively unpacking our ideas about the doing and learning of mathematics, and talking back to those ideas and imagine other possibilities. My goal is to create a community of people that develops a critical consciousness about mathematical identity and the place of mathematics both in our lives and in the world, which will allow us to move from reacting to structures outside of ourselves to being empowered actors who create our own identities. Participants will also work on mathematical problems that grow out of contexts that we identify as interesting, as well as mathematical problems that are abstracted (as is much of school mathematics), and that work will inform our developing and shifting perspectives on mathematical identity and the place of mathematics in our world. Anyone is welcome to participate, so feel free to read, comment, question, or argue!

Picture from the Ethnomathematics Institute Kalaupapa, Molokai in Summer 2011 (credit:

Picture from the Ethnomathematics Institute Kalaupapa, Molokai in Summer 2011 (credit:

You can start by reading some short pieces critical of math education. These are interesting to read together since the solutions proposed are so divergent:

This class is really a research collective — we’re researching ourselves and our memories in order to understand mathematical identity and culture, using a research method known as memory-work. Everyone is invited to write a mathematical memory and post it via this form or through a post on a blog or other venue (just provide a link in the comments, or post link to twitter with hashtag #liberationmath). The important thing is to write the memory under a pseudonym (to create some distance), to be as detailed as possible (don’t leave out anything, even what seems unimportant, and to write one memory, not a string of events or biography. We’re looking for the raw memory, rather than how you interpreting it (for more information about this, see the Haug reference below). We’ll be collectively identifying similarities and differences, themes, what seems to be missing, and what our writing says about who we are. That conversation will begin next Monday. To read more about the memory work method, check out the following three articles. The first talks about mathematics specifically, the second is by Frigga Haug, the woman who developed the method, and the third is a paper by a research collective of adult learners that used the method in a class.

What do you think about math and it’s place in our culture? What kinds of memories (good or bad) do you have of mathematics? Leave a comment below! Anyone who is going to be posting about Liberation Math, please leave a link to your blog and/or twitter account below — I’ll be compiling the links on the sidebar.

(Lesley Students who are enrolled in the course, make sure you cover all of the assignments in the course outline under Week 1 — it’s a big week, so I recommend starting early!)

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Join Us for Liberation Math (it’s a class and a community!)

Liberation Math, the course, starts next week. We’re going to be doing a wide variety of readings and critical reflection about mathematics education, and we would love to engage and interact with you (yes, you). You can see my outline for the class here — everything is in flux and the participants will have a big influence on what we actually do, especially in the second half of the semester.

One of the things I want to do with Liberation Math is to give a voice to people who wrestle with mathematics, especially those who feel like their voice doesn’t belong in a conversation about math or math education. I want to hear the voices saying that something doesn’t fit about math, that math is oppressive, that math has no relationship to people’s lives, that math education doesn’t fit their needs, that something is broken. That means I need your story of wrestling with mathematics, no matter what form that struggle has taken. You could write your story in any medium you want. Comment on this post with your story. Tweet it with the hashtag #liberationmath. Fill out the form at the top of the page to “Add Your Voice.” Write a post with your story and give a pingback or tweet your post with #liberationmath hashtag. Do a story on Cowbird. You get the idea.

Starting next week, I’ll be posting readings and conversation starters each Monday. These should give you something to wrestle with and talk back to. By Friday, notes will be posted from the in-person class that might provide further fodder for discussion and reflection. By early Monday morning, there will be a roundup posted about the activity of the week, including, perhaps, some of your ideas and thoughts.
(P.S. For those of you in #etmooc, I’m looking at ways to grow my students PLNs and using this course as a tool for social change. Anyone have ideas about more ways to do that?)