7 Resources for Integrating Math and Humane Education

"I thought math was just a subject they implanted on us just because they felt like it, but now I realize that you could use math to defend your rights and realize the injustices around you.… [N]ow I think math is truly necessary and, I have to admit it, kinda cool. It's sort of like a pass you could use to try to make the world a better place."
~ Freida, ninth grade, Chicago Public Schools


“Why do I have to learn this?” A question many teachers dread, but probably no subject attracts that query more often than mathematics. Most school math textbooks try to interest students in math with probabilities, percentages and story problems involving pizza or shopping discounts or other consumerist and pop culture connections. What many students claim – and more teachers are realizing – is that the way math is taught today is fundamentally disconnected from and irrelevant to students’ lives. Fortunately, there’s a growing movement of social justice or humane mathematics education, which offers, as teacher Kurt Schmidt puts it, “mathematics teaching and learning that strives to help students to make good sense of and make positive change in their world.” Here are 7 resources to help educators interested in integrating humane education issues and mathematics.

  1. A Guide for Integrating Issues of Social and Economic Justice into Mathematics Curriculum (pdf) by Jonathan Osler (2007)
    From the founder of Radical Math, an overview of “social justice math” that includes benefits, pitfalls, examples, responses to critics, and suggested resources.

  2. Mathematics for a Broken, Beautiful World (pdf) by Kurt Schmidt (2011)
    Teacher and IHE M.Ed. student, Kurt Schmidt, has created a math-based project for his master’s thesis. The project strives to clarify how and why mathematics really matters in the lives of students and includes an original curricular resource package for mathematics educators who are working at late secondary and early post-secondary levels. The resource package includes three flexible teaching modules designed to facilitate educators’ re-connection of math with contemporary issues of global concern. (The resource package begins on page 32 of the pdf file.)

  3. Maththatmatters: A Teacher Resource Linking Math and Social Justice by David Stocker (2007)
    Stocker’s book offers an overview of why mathematics must be made relevant to students and provides 50 sample lesson plans that explore the connections between math and social justice.

  4. Radical Math
    Want to integrate social justice and humane issues into your math classes? This website offers hundreds of lesson plans, articles, charts, books, websites and other resources searchable by subject, math topic or resource type.

  5. Reading & Writing the World with Mathematics: Toward a Pedagogy for Social Justice by Eric Gutstein (2006)
    Gutstein, who is considered something of an expert in integrating math and social justice, offers a theoretical framework, with practical examples, for helping students connect math to the real world and understand its use in contributing to positive social change.

  6. Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers by Eric Gutstein and Bob Peterson (2005)
    Another great book from Rethinking schools that offers more than 30 articles showing teachers how to integrate math-related social justice principles & issues into mathematics and other classes. Topics addressed include war, environmental racism, poverty, wealth distribution, slavery, and labor.

  7. Teaching Tolerance – Math and Technology
    Teaching Tolerance is a bastion of educational materials and ideas useful in integrating the social justice lens into your lessons involving mathematics.

There are also children’s books which explore important humane concepts. Two examples are The Rabbit Problem by Emily Gravett, which explores a puzzle by Fibonacci (as well as overpopulation) and It’s Raining Cats—and Cats! by Jeanne Prevost, which explores cat overpopulation.

And, our own downloadable activities include opportunities to explore humane education in a math context. One specific example is Too Much of a Good Thing, which uses Algebra to look at pet overpopulation.

~ Marsha

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