This Week at the Global Math Department

Edited By Nate Goza  @thegozaway
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From the World of Math Ed…

Pi Day

Mathematics does not get many holidays. One of the few and perhaps most popular holidays, which happened last Thursday, is “Pi Day”. Far from being entirely innocuous, it is often met with controversy. At issue is not the name of the holiday but rather when it should occur, how it should be celebrated, and if it should be celebrated at all. Some examples:

To be fair, debates about Pi Day are mostly just humorous banter. But as the old saying goes: every joke contains a grain of truth. In this case, the tweets highlight an issue about mathematics that go beyond Pi. They demonstrate how mathematicians and mathematics educators are often called to serve as advocates. Consider the following exchange, which anyone teaching mathematics will be familiar with:

Stranger: So what do you do?
You: I teach/do/work in proximity to math.
Stranger: Oh, I hated math.

In these scenarios, we’re being positioned into the role of advocates and, sometimes, the role of apologists. What kind of response is being expected, after all?

The same happens with Pi Day. We are asked, usually implicitly, to align ourselves with the holiday, actively rally against it, or ignore it entirely. In each case, we act as advocates for some position.

But using the term advocate in relation to mathematics is tricky. An advocate is usually someone who promotes or defends a group of people or a cause that has been marginalized or excluded. In this sense, “advocate for mathematics” becomes an oxymoron. Mathematics is not marginalized; it marginalizes. In conjunction with STEM, mathematics is a prism through which dominant ideologies express themselves – and not as themselves, but rather as the refracted images of seemingly more neutral concepts such as objectivity, rationality, and truth.

So rather than seeing math teachers as “advocates for mathematics”, it makes more sense to see them as “advocates for people doing mathematics”. Preoccupations with the digits of Pi is not just a disservice to mathematics but more importantly a disservice to the people who do mathematics. The mysticism often associated with Pi should be combated because math is not mystical and because elitism should be removed from the culture of mathematics.

So happy belated Pi Day everyone, in whatever way works best for you 😉

Written by Melvin Peralta (@melvinmperalta)

A Pi Day Take, Part II
Melvin has pictured above what we may call the “Orlin Interpertation” of Pi Day. Call it a “W” for mathematics, and embrace it!

Patrick Honner, in replying, has this to say, and a blog post he wrote on this topic:

All mathematics teachers need not hew to the Orlin Interpretation, as Melvin nicely points out above. Many of the activities are superficial, and we should take care to not make them too non-mathematical (or all about edible pies).

But taking the “W” here could mean letting Pi Day be a part of the culture, because how many mathematical things are truly embedded or woven into the culture? Awareness is good, but building on this math win hopefully means pushing other mathematical ideas and concepts further into the public sphere. i Day? Sure, “imagine” that? Tau Day? Have at it. Getting beyond just cutesy interpretations of date notation (e.g., 3/14) would be good as well.

K-12 teachers of mathematics are in a good position to push mathematics further into the culture than ever before!

Written by Matthew Oldridge (@MatthewOldridge)

Humanizing Math
(inspired by Darryl Yong and Becky)
Mattie B bravely acknowledges the tragedy in New Zealand with his students.  He clearly states that students should avoid watching the video or reading the manifesto as it should be starved of attention; only to quickly learn that some students had already seen it.

Teaching is political – I give credit to Mattie for attempting to talk about “the heavy stuff” even if imperfect (and without the structures), these are the moments that students will remember, this leadership, this willingness to engage with students as humans grappling with the world around.

Julie Jee shares a reading journey assignment  that asks students to reflect on who they are as readers.  With questions like:

  • Why did you choose this book/these books?
  • How does it/do they push you outside your comfort zone? What is so different about it/them? The perspective? The setting? The plot?
  • Mirror: To what extent do you see yourself reflected in the book(s)?
  • Window: What are you learning about this different perspective?
  • Wonder: What did you wonder or think about as you were reading your book(s)?
Tricia Ebarvia submitted this comic from incidental comics to help visualize the power books can have for our students; perhaps providing our students with powerful questions and diverse books will help facilitate “the heavy stuff” that Mattie B is willing to discuss.
Sharing with students what we are reading like Christie Nold does on her classroom door can inspire our students to see their math teachers are whole people, with interests outside of our math curriculum – with the hope that our students may also be inspired to pick up a book and expand their own world view.  I am wondering if Ms. Nold’s door sign could be expanded to somehow imitate the bookstores we grew up with (the kind with handwritten notes of recommendation under the book titles).  I imagine a book wall (or a wiki) where students can recommend books they are reading to each other.
Postscript aka One Cool Thing:


Written by Diana McClean (@teachMcClean)

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