When most people think back on their college statistics class, they likely think of a semester full of charts, numbers, and confusing formulas that take hours to understand. A new course at UCO, Math for Social Justice, is aiming to take a new approach at teaching this math concept while providing students with real-world experiences to better prepare them for their future career in teaching.
In the elementary and early childhood education programs, all students are required by the Oklahoma State Department of Education to take twelve hours of math course credits as part of the 4×12 general education requirement. In the past, these students have opted to take a statistics class in a traditional math course format, with little information provided in regards to how statistics will apply in a future classroom setting. Professors in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction saw this as an opportunity to create a new statistics course, specifically for education majors.
“When we received permission to create this course, I thought ‘there are a lot of issues in schools that deal with social injustices,’ and we realized that math and social justice pair well together. I also wanted to combine a service learning project with this element,” said Darlinda Cassel, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.
“This class allowed our students to collect data for statistics and also complete a service project for a nonprofit.”
Math for Social Justice pairs statistics with facts and realities about injustices in the world, specifically centered on education and resources teachers often need. To help study this, the class has partnered with the nonprofit organization Feed the Children which operates a Teacher Store warehouse in Oklahoma City. Businesses across the country donate items to the store where teachers from title I schools across the state are then able to visit and select free materials for their classrooms. Items in the store range from books and writing materials to snack foods and classroom furniture.
The goal of the project is for students to conduct research on if teachers’ needs are being met by the materials they receive at the store and how the process could be more effective. All students are responsible for a portion of the project that has included visiting the Teacher Store to interview teachers and observe the processes involved. They will then compile their research and present it to administration at Feed the Children at the end of the course.
The process has been eye opening for many students in the class as they have been exposed to the need often faced by teachers in low-income districts when trying to provide materials for their classrooms.
“I talked to a wide range of people at the teacher store that included teachers and school administrators, and all of their needs seemed to be the same,” said Dillon Wise, a senior elementary education major.
“They are just trying to help support their students however they can.”
Karen Inselman, a senior elementary education major, explained, “One teacher at the store that I talked to said she was sometimes spending around $100 per week to just help feed her students, so the teacher store has been a good resource for her.”
Overall, the students agree they have gained so much more than just statistics knowledge throughout the course, and it has reaffirmed their passion for their future profession.
“I took this course, because I felt like it would give me an opportunity to experience more than just a traditional classroom setting,” said Taylor Gutierrez, a junior elementary education major.
“I feel like I actually know this material and can apply it to my future school setting since I have had a chance to use it for real-world experiences in this class.”
Students will complete this course in May 2020, and the course is expected to be offered again in a similar format for the upcoming fall.