Student Voice in Critical Conversations – Probability and the Lottery

Culturally responsive teaching in mathematics – good in theory, impossible in practice? Time and again teachers feel overwhelmed by the idea of CRT in practice. It’s not that we don’t value critical dialogue with our students, but it often seems daunting in addition to the standards we are expected to teach in a given school year. How can we access critical and community knowledge when we get so caught up on the classical math knowledge?

The key is to integrate multiple banks of knowledge into instruction. In the following task on experimental and theoretical probability, students are asked to not only understand the math terms and processes, but to explore the intersection of their lived experience and the content. Megan Lonsdale (Mississippi 2013) recently conducted the task with her classroom and reflected on the experience below. Before considering her reflections, I encourage you to look at the following guiding documents and artifacts:

Why did you choose this task? Why is this sort of task important for students to engage with in Byhalia and elsewhere?

Megan: I chose this task because we had just started the probability unit and I had noticed that my students were struggling to understand the difference between theoretical and experimental probability. I wanted a task that would not only help them see the difference but a task that would also spike their interest and get them excited to talk about the differences that they see and how probability can help us interpret the world around us. Before starting the task I actually had no idea that the state of Mississippi didn’t have a state lottery. I was interested to hear that since my students are located so close to Memphis, this was not something a lot of them had realized as well. This sort of task is so important for students to engage in because math doesn’t just exist in the classroom. Math can help us interpret the world around us and help students develop a social consciousness. I want my students to be able to leave my classroom with not only a better understanding of math but as critical thinkers. 

How did the task go? How does it compare to other tasks or activities students have engaged with? What have you learned from this experience?

The task went well. I had a great time doing this activity with students and the reflections I received from students were also positive. I enjoyed showing students that math exists beyond the classroom walls and I definitely want to do that more often. I think one of the major differences with this task and other tasks I have used in my classroom is how relevant this was to my students lives. Even though I have used plenty of hands-on activities and different tasks in my class, nothing I have used has been this relevant and this Mississippi. My students were engaged and thoughtful and since they were more engaged and interested in the work, my students were better able to interpret the difference between theoretical and experimental probability. I learned that it is so important to use tasks that are engaging

What did the task tell you about students? What didn’t it tell you?

I went to several PDs about CRT this week so one of the major things I noticed about this task was the lens in which my students view the worlds and the lens (or window in the case of the article I read for Teaching Beyond Black and White) that I view my students in. One thing that really stuck out to me was after reading the article about how the lottery preys on the poor, a lot of my students made comments about how horrible it was that it lottery preyed on the poor but I noticed that my students did not associate themselves with being poor. Even though the majority of my students meet the federal requirements for free and reduced lunch and would be considered poor, it is all about the lens in which we view the world. My students do not view themselves as poor because (I am assuming based on conversations with students) that they’re doing okay. They have what they need and they have met people with much less. I had to take a moment to consider the lens in which I was viewing my students since their statements after reading this article were definitely shocking to me. 

Where do you want to go from here?

I want to incorporate many more tasks like this in my classroom since this was a great success. My students not only got a better understanding for the difference between theoretical and experimental probability but it gave students a voice in legislation that could potentially impact the state of Mississippi. This task taught my students an important lesson that math is extremely valuable in analyzing the world around you and being able to form an opinion and justify that opinion with facts. 

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