ISSUES IN MULTICULTURAL MATHEMATICS EDUCATION

One of the discussion questions on the class assignment asks if the culture of our students influences how we teach. It’s funny that, even though I teach these students every day, I had to think about where they were from or of what race they were. It doesn’t make a difference to me whether my students are black or white. I teach them all the same.

Linda, teacher in master’s program for mathematics education

Further discussion with Linda revealed that her statement was meant to make clear that she displayed no prejudices in her teaching and that she had the same expectations for all students—similar to the Navaho teacher in the introductory chapter. The statement begs reflections on some questions, some of which may be sensitive to some readers.

Questions to Ponder

  • 1. Does achieving equity in the classroom imply that the teacher must take into account the cultural perspectives of the students?
  • 2. Will students’ achievement be enhanced if a teacher teaches from a Standards-based (SB) perspective?
  • 3. Will students’ achievement be enhanced if a teacher teaches from a traditional perspective?

Questions 4-6 use Figure 4.1 and require the following definitions:

Traditional Strategies: In its report on developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century, the National Research Panel (2012) summarizes research that characterizes traditional teaching:

These studies present a remarkably consistent characterization of mathematics teaching in upper elementary school and middle-grade classrooms in the United States: Students generally work alone and in silence, with little opportunity for discussion and collaboration and little or no access to suitable computational or visualization tools. They focus on low-level tasks that require memorizing and recalling facts and procedures rather than tasks requiring high-level cognitive processes, such as reasoning about and connecting ideas or solving

Different Teaching Methods

FIGURE 4.1 Different Teaching Methods: Standards-Based and Traditional

complex problems. The curriculum includes a narrow band of mathematics content (e.g., arithmetic in the elementary and middle grades) that is disconnected from real-world situations, and a primary goal for students is to produce answers quickly and efficiently without much attention to explanation, justification, or the development of meaning.

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Standards-Based Strategies (SBS). I use NCTM’s eight Mathematics Teaching Practices from Principles to Actions (2014) to characterize Standards-based strategies. Students of teachers engaging in these practices are: (1) learning clearly defined goals that are used to further their learning in succeeding lessons; (2) solving challenging and worthwhile tasks that invite varied approaches and have multiple solution paths; (3) making connections among important ideas to further their conceptual and procedural understanding so that they come to understand the big ideas that may later serve as tools for problem solving; (4) justifying and communicating their mathematical ideas to others; (5) responding to higher-level thinking questions to address misconceptions and facilitate transference of knowledge to new situations; (6) demonstrating their conceptual and procedural competence through their thinking processes for solving contextual and mathematical problems; (7) engaging in productive struggle with problems for which they have no immediate solution paths, individually or in groups; (8) encouraged to demonstrate their thinking to serve as formative assessment for the teacher.

  • 4. Are there subsets of SBS that work best for enhancing the achievement of some groups as in set A in Figure 4.1?
  • 5. Will students’ achievement be enhanced if a teacher uses a mixture of SBS and traditional strategies as in Set B of Figure 4.1?
  • 6. Are there cultural groups for which the traditional approach enhances students’ achievement?
  • 7. What suggestions do research and NCTM provide?
  • 8. What exactly is multicultural education, and why is it important?

Working backward from the bottom of the list of questions will provide a sound basis for launching fruitful discussions on many of the preceding questions. I begin with a working definition of

multicultural education.

 
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