Monthly Archives: October 2017

Whose story should we teach?


In all honesty, how many teachers have the time to answer this question? Nevertheless, I am one of the lucky few to ponder this question after work on Mondays when attending grad school. I have the privilege to be a student in the Master in Science in Teaching and Inquiry (MSTI) Program led by Dr. Steven Wolk at Northeastern Illinois University. I began this journey a year ago during Fall 2016.

Let me explain my journey.

Although my days start and 6am and end at 10pm every Mondays, I must admit, I always leave class fired up and enlightened by the highly rich discussions we have about education. Today, we read an article titled “Decolonizing Curriculum” by Christine Sleeter and discussed about about what it meant based off the current histories we teach in schools. Reflecting on my school education, I remember learning how Abraham Lincoln was a revolutionary leader who abolished slavery; after watching a Ted Ed talk by Aaron Huey, I realized I never learned how he had the opposite impact on the  Lakota tribe-a group of indigenous people from our country.

Moreover, I believe that so many times and based off of my school experiences as a student, history has always been presented as an event that happened in the past. Textbooks rarely or even never relate on how history influences the present let alone include current events that impact students today. Moreover, textbooks are often carry Eurocentric ideologies and nationalistic views–a student asked me today in school: “How come we learn only about history in the U.S in social studies this year?” True statement, as all of our students are required to take U.S. History in 8th grade.

Wolk @stevewolk_ presented two awesome Ted Ed videos that I recommend every educator should watch. This allows us to reflect on our current teaching practices, curriculum, and decide what histories are missing and what needs to be incorporated in our classroom. Dr. Rochelle Gutierrez, one of my undergraduate professors at UIUC wrote it beautifully in one of her research papers by asking: what windows are we providing for our students to see? Right now, I think we are just presenting one window for our students: The White American Window. And some awesome teachers are reinventing this norm recognizing that textbooks only present one window for students. I recall my World History teacher freshman year in high school scratching the textbook and presented inquiry based questions such as: What is the Cause of War? How does religion influence culture?  in which students selected topics that they were interested to answer the focus question and presented their findings after researching primary and secondary sources. The entire year we had about 5-8 big questions that we brainstormed as a class and selected for our Inquiry Based Project.  I thank James Sabathne for teaching me how to be a researcher, writer, and critical thinker which makes researching a natural endeavor when I was a 14 year old who had no idea that she would be writing a literature review on Culturally Relevant Pedagogy in the Mathematics Classroom as a graduate student.



What does this mean for educators?  As a mathematics teacher, I find myself stuck in Nepantla- this messy space of tensions between tensions. Not black; not white, but a grey area where I am trying to decide what to do that is best for my students. The messy space is a place I know that I have a curriculum and standards to teach based off of a timeline. But I recognize that my students are human beings/thinkers, and my job is to help them critically analyze the world to make it a better place. However, the mathematical goal at the end of today was to apply the Pythagorean Theorem. How do I begin to reinvent the norms to make sure my students learn the math skills to score well statistically but at the same time help them become thinkers and not robots? I not only want them to learn math, but want them to use math to critically analyze the world and use mathematical evidence to support their ideas. I understand that it is not always easy to incorporate mathematics into bigger ideas, but if I am truly an expert in my field, I know that it is possible. Today after I taught students how to apply Pythagorean Theorem to a baseball diamond, they started on their Access Project in which they are answering the inquiry based question: Which ward in your community has the best access to resources? After they answer that, they are going to explore which community is lacking resources and how can we help that community? If you are interested in this project see my previous post to get the directions page and also stay posted for my reflection on how the second year of implementing the project goes.

Math Projects: Art and Social Justice for Looking for Pythagoras Unit

I teach from the Connected Mathematics Program (CMP3) and I just want to say that the second unit: Looking for Pythagoras is my favorite book. Students explore and derive the Pythagorean Theorem on their own and it connects so much to their understanding about finding distances (horizontal, vertical, and diagonal distances). My goal is to share strategies on how I implement each investigation in the near future but right now I want to focus on sharing some of the projects I had students work on throughout each investigation. Hope this is useful!

Social Justice Project: Applying Pythagorean Theorem to Analyze LFP Access Project Dao-1leetmu

  • When to Implement? After Investigation 4
  • What are students focusing on? Which ward has the best access to resources in your community?
    • You may need to select a different local map for your community (This is a map of Evanston)
  • What is the goal? For students to apply the Pythagorean Theorem in their community and use mathematical evidence to analyze their community.

Art Projects:

  • When to Implement? After Investigation 3 and 4
  • What are students focusing on? Applying pythagorean theorem to calculate the exact distances and to calculate area of irregular shapes. Applying pythagorean theorem to calculate the different distances (hypotenuse) on the Wheel of Theodorus.

Wheel of Theodorus Art Project-14nc8jj (2-3 days)

Area and Perimeter Design Project-xt8ie9    (1 week)

Dot Paper-26k28i0


A kid asked me today…

“Where are the steps on how to do the problem? I need you to tell me step 1, step 2 step 3 so I can do it…”

Some teachers may provide students with step by step instructions on how to do a mathematical problem. But I want to ask these teachers, are you really helping the student learn or rather helping them learn how to memorize the steps and regurgitate it like a robot? I feel that the best way for students to learn is through productive struggle and exploration. Of course at the end of the lesson I will summarize and help students unpack ideas; nevertheless , so many of my students want the easy way out and wait for the teacher to tell them the answer.

It definitely depends on the students and some need more guidance than others, but if we as educators do not allow room for productive struggle in our classrooms, are students truly learning and thinking about problems deeply?

I can definitely see arguments from both sides. But this is how I have been trying to meet halfway. When students spend some time exploring 10-15 minutes on a problem, I recap as a whole class and ask the class what strategies have worked for them, and show the strategies that students share underneath the document camera. After we see multiple strategies we discuss which ones are the most efficient and the students help me summarize what step 1, step 2 and step 3 should be, etc. That is why I never have pre-typed notes; we create notes together as a class organically.



My day began when I saw a picture of my professor on a Fox News Article titled:

“White privilege bolstered by teaching math, university professor says”

What a title taken way out of context.

Nevertheless, my twitter feed has been flooded with countless support and educators who recognize the importance of Rochelle’s work. Illana Horn said it beautifully: “Voicing my support for . Her detractors’ venom only proves her point about power, white supremacy, and math ed.

I have worked with Dr. Rochelle Gutierrez since my undergraduate years when I was a pre-service teacher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has inspired so many teachers throughout her career, and her work is foundational in the movement on mathematics education.  She not only serves as a professor, but also as a mentor and inspirational leader among educators. She continually pushes her students to be creative within and beyond classroom walls.

This is the professor who embraces the beauty of mathematics, strives for equity in mathematics education, and recognizes the politics surrounding the teaching of mathematics. Furthermore, it is so important to recognize that mathematics has been a world contribution, and unfortunately our education system and textbooks do not often recognize this fact. Very recently, when I taught the Pythagorean Theorem, I showed students this amazing Ted Ed Video that shares how mathematics has been a world contribution.

So many of my colleagues have been inspired by Dr. Rochelle Gutierrez that they are doing incredible things in the realm of mathematics education–including developing a teacher community striving to teach math meaningfully for all students, especially for our traditionally marginalized youth.

I began my undergraduate studies knowing two things: that I enjoyed mathematics and working with students. Nevertheless, Rochelle inspired me to develop deeper ideas about: What is mathematics?  Who is a mathematician? Was math discovered or invented? What is social justice mathematics? How can we empower our students? During seminar discussions revolving around these questions, my colleagues and I pondered about these ideas, often leaving with more questions than answers. This messy space–Nepantla–allowed us to continuously reflect on teaching strategies and pushed us to question the status quo.

As mathematics transcends mere numbers and arithmetic, Rochelle modeled the beauty of mathematics in puzzles, games and brain teasers, providing undergraduates the opportunity to share this beauty to young students in the community. She initiated and ran a weekly club: iMaths, at the Champaign Public Library with a focus of bringing in marginalized middle school students to participate and run a club centered around mathematics. Undergraduates recruited students who particularly did not view themselves as mathematical. One may imagine a typical mathematics club with students working on math problems on a whiteboard, or quietly working on a worksheet. Contrastingly, iMaths served as a space for students to play with mathematics, including origami, hexaflexagons, card games, investigating the “tricks” behind such card games,  brainteasers, and various strategy games. Students collaborated, shared their strategies, and served as mathematics ambassadors to recruit their friends and peers to join the math community.

I can only count a number of impactful teachers in my education. Dr. Rochelle Gutiérrez was one of the few teachers that transformed, inspired, and supported me in my endeavors. I recall my countless nervous interviews searching for my first job. I would call Rochelle on the way home sharing with her how my interview went and she gave me advice for future interviews.

It saddens me that Fox News took Rochelle’s work out of context. I am so excited to read her new publication. #IstandwithRochelle

Nevertheless, I am hopeful for the future. Professor Matt Felton-Koestler @FeltonKoestler  wrote an amazing blogpost in regards to Privilege and Oppression in Math Ed.