GSE awarded grant to implement culturally responsive math project

mathPortland Public Schools is partnering with the Graduate School of Education on a project to bring culturally responsive mathematics to elementary classrooms. Professor Swapna Mukhopadhyay in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction is the principal investigator and will manage the grant of $112,307 from the Oregon Department of Education.

To oversee the project, Dr. Mukhopadhyay has convened a collaborative design team that includes K–12 and university educators, members of local nonprofits, and other professionals who are interested in the success of young people. “There are many ‘funds of knowledge’ in the community that are rich resources for teaching math in ways that relate to people’s lives,” Dr. Mukhopadhyay says.

The grant project consists of several components: professional development for five teachers at each school; formation of after-school math clubs; involvement of family members; a teacher-led math conference in the spring of 2015 where teachers and students will exhibit their projects to families, community members, other teachers and administrators; and field trips to the Portland State University campus and Portland Art Museum.

The project uses current curricular materials and relates them to the local community and culture, with the goal that students learn to look at math in a new way so they understand how it fits into their lives.

A central message of the project is that math is found in all cultures. For example, Native American pottery and weaving, of which there are many outstanding examples in the Portland Art Museum, exhibit complex and beautiful geometrical patterns.

Rosa Parks and Boise-Elliot/Humboldt Schools in the PPS district have enthusiastically welcomed the opportunity to become pioneers in one way to help close the achievement gap for children in grades 3–5 in high-poverty schools.

Boise Eliot/Humboldt School Principal Kevin Bacon says, “I am excited about being a community partner with you in this project as it will aid in the ultimate goal of improving student engagement in their own learning and seeing how school work is relevant to their lives, from which will flow improved academic performance and hence enhanced life chances for children who have historically been underserved.”

Rosa Parks Principal Tamala Newsome is equally enthusiastic. “We strive, through the education we provide, to help children meet the challenges of their lives and, through education, to realize the potential that lies in each of them. We are working hard to provide all of our children with a solid education that honors their heritage and that will help them to become productive citizens and enhance their life chances. In particular, we recognize that helping children achieve confidence in mathematics is a very important part of this mission.”

Swapna M2Project leader Dr. Mukhopadhyay has been researching and teaching culturally responsive mathematics pedagogy from the perspective of ethnomathematics at PSU since 2002. Dr. Mukhopadhyay has taught many math classes, published articles on integrating math and culture, co-edited two books on the topic, and sponsors an annual lecture series entitled Alternative Forms of Knowledge Construction in Mathematics and Science. The inclusion of local community resources and culture in the work is central to the concept of culturally responsive education. Her passion extends to the Bay of Bengal, India, where she studied a group of unschooled boat builders who make ocean-going fishing boats without modern tools, computers, or blueprints and pass their skills to the next generation.

Upcoming lectures in ethnomathematics

Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Culturally Responsive Mathematics Teaching: What Teachers Need to Know in an Era of High Stakes Education

Wednesday, May 28, 2014
The Need for Math Education to Go the Way of Latin: An Epistemological and Ethical Justification


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