Using Math to Save the World

Although we seldom talk about them on the blog, our husbands are big supporters and contributors to Ed to Save the World. All three of them have backgrounds in education and their advice, expertise, and humor are invaluable to our operation.

This week, we’re proud to feature Craig Ferraro’s “Statistical Servants,” which refers to the big project his 7th grade pre-algebra students just finished up last week.helping-handsThe project began with a discussion of students’ experiences in past service projects and the importance of direct service in making our communities a better place. Then each class voted to choose a community problem to investigate further; one class chose homelessness and one chose the achievement gap in education. From this point forward, students worked in pairs to research statistical evidence to define the problem and create a variety of graphical representations of the data using graphing software.

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graph-1photo 2They used these graphs to understand the issues they were studying (and to demonstrate mastery of graphing skills and statistics, of course), and then used the data they had found to design their own service projects to address the problems as they better understood them. One group came up with a plan to make temporary dwellings using plastic bottles and mud to address homelessness, while another wrote small-group lesson plans and discussion points to use with younger students in lower performing schools. Some proposed personal care packages — pencils, study guides, encouraging trinkets — to inspire students during state testing, while others found local homeless shelters to partner with.

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On the final day, students presented their service proposals, supported by the graphical evidence, to a variety of school administrators, trustees, teachers, and parents. The two winning proposed service projects will be carried out later this spring.

We’re excited about the way this project combines some of the most important elements of the 21st century classroom. It puts students in the driver’s seat, pushing the intellectual burden off of the teacher and onto the learners. It demands that students use technology strategically to, first, find reliable information by sifting through the overabundance of data available via the web, and, second, produce their own information to share back with web-based and live audiences. It gives real-world meaning to topics that too-often get a cursory lesson or two in the textbook, lending authenticity to student performance. And, most importantly, it teaches students how to use mathematical thinking to make a difference in the world.

Is the primary goal of mathematics instruction to complete community service projects? I suppose not. But why not? As our favorite education guru Jerome Bruner wrote, “The first object of any act of learning is that it should serve us in the future.” We might amend that to read: “The first object of any act of learning is that it should help us serve others in the future.” Don’t you think?

Feel free to check out more of Craig’s thoughts and work by following him on Twitter: @mrccferraro.

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Categories: Stage 5: Students as World Changers

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