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.

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I wonder if the book I’m working on (

Playing With Math: Stories from Math Circles, Homeschoolers, and Passionate Teachers) will help in this endeavor. Most homeschooling moms are not comfortable with math. They decide to work their way through their discomfort for the sake of their kids. What I see them saying about how to do math with their kids is: relax about the timing, find a way to make it meaningful for your kid, enjoy the process of relearning math yourself.Your book is so awesome and I really can’t wait to see it. I love the idea of pulling in parents who aren’t comfortable, but find their way through. If there are any sources you can point us to that might give us ideas (since we can’t have your book yet!) that would be great. Do you have a post or something similar that describes the book?

I posted a short note about this discussion at the Living Math Forum (a Yahoo email group), so some of the parents there could come chat with you all.

Angela, I’d be willing to share one or two chapters with your class. I think I already sent you the manuscript – which chapters do you think would be most interesting? Perhaps Julie’s first chapter and the one called The Math Haters Come Around?

Your class might also enjoy Denise Gaskin’s Let’s Play Math and the soon-to-be-published

Moebius Noodles.Also, I often post small tidbits from the book at the Playing With Math Facebook page. You can follow our progress there!

Sue — I think it would be great to start with Julie’s first chapter and see how it strikes the students, if that is OK by you. I’d be really curious to see their responses. Thanks for posting a link to this discussion — you have such great connections among parents working with kids, which a group that can be a powerful force in math education!

I host a homeschool living math group, which is really a blend of mathematical thinking, math history, and ethnomathematics. We use the curriculum from livingmath.net. We are following the timeline from antiquity (body conting) up through time, because to understand math you need to know the mathematicians behind the discoveries. Why did the Egyptians become so good at calculating area? Because they were taxed on the unflooded portions of their fields. What was the undoing of Pythagoras? He only believed in whole numbers and his famous theorem sometimes resulted in a fraction. (He also taught that planets have vibrational frequencies which is true). So we are bringing math to life for our kids and they are learning the concepts thoroughly. It is a lot of fun. Might be of interest to you. We use no textbooks and do no math drills.

When asking people about why they did not learn the math in school that is now needed in the adult work world, most answers are in one of two categories; boring and/or irrelevant to one’s life. Math must be taught in ways to overcome these two crushing items.

I put together a book for a subset of the population that needs math in their work but who often struggle. The focus of the book is on the construction of a small house and is arranged in a way familiar to builders; from foundation to frame to plumbing/electric and then to finish work. Intervening chapters discuss the math needed for each phase of the job. In this way, the student is in familiar territory and dealing with their subject of interest to make the math relevant to their life.

Alan Cook

A Trip To The Number Yard

Thanks for sharing that, Alan! Looks like a great book, and I’m curious to look into it more!

Alan, your book sounds fascinating. I’m one of those people who very much needs real-world application for things to make sense. Any chance you can get Amazon to offer a “Look Inside” so we can take a peek?

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This is fabulous, Angela. The book mentions and comments above capture most of my thoughts. I think math apprehension and poor demonstrated ability is largely a nurturing problem. If your parents or older siblings are apprehensive or don’t appreciate numeracy or put stock in the value of math, there’s a strong possibility that the child won’t either.

To battle this, I think it’s important to create moments early on that help children see the wonder and beauty of math. Since math is in everything from music to video games, this should be one of the easiest things to try (not accomplish, but try:))

When I was very young, my grandmother used to sit with me for hours as we played many kinds of card games. During the games, she would create moments of wonder. She shared tricks for calculation based on numbers that helped me develop a sense of pride in math. At 5 years old, my grandmother had me believe that I now possessed a secret that few others knew. A trick for doing arithmetic with the number 9. I experienced the trick and could replicate it. I think this went beyond the mechanics of performance. I let math in and I was better off for it.

35 years later, I still feel this way. I don’t need to do advanced math in my job but I see the majesty of numbers. I feel the relationship between values at a glance. Numbers and numeracy are a secret of the universe.

Everyone doesn’t have a grandmother with math secrets of the universe. I suppose that’s a small problem. But it seems like a solvable problem:)

Interesting point about continuation in families — I wonder if there is research on that (if you happen to know of any pass it my way). I think a piece of what you bring up then is the importance of reaching families. Everyone may not be able to have such a grandma as yours, but if we could help more adults interacting with kids to be able to feel this kind of number confidence, it would seem to go a long way. I think people like Sue VanHattum and others are doing exactly that work, but we need more. I’m thinking about what to do in my own school commmunity!

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