Desmos For Social Justice Part Deux

Blogging seems to have slipped away from me this winter.  I was inspired to blog tonight about using Desmos to discuss how to support kids post-Trump’s election  and realized that the last time I blogged, it was on the very same topic.

Tonight was the first class session of the Spring Semester of the math and science pedagogy course I teach at UC Berkeley.  My step-daughter is a 1st year student at UCSB and has remarked how rarely, if ever, her professors have discussed the impact Trump has or could have on students’ lives or the fear his proposed policies create for many students. I found this somewhat surprising, but understandable.

However, in a pedagogy course, where students have a teaching placement, it feels of vital importance that these aspiring teachers reflect on how to lower students’ affective filters, whether that be around the math and science content, or simply ensuring that every student feels safe when at school.  Knowing that students, especially students of color, may be coming to school fearful of how Trump’s presidency could profoundly affect their families is important, whether or not your personal politics align or differ from his.

Tonight, day 1 of class, I posed this question via Desmos Activity Builder: Graph your emotions over the past week (the inauguration was 3 days ago and the Women’s Marches across the country were 2 days ago).  I made absolutely no mention of any of this, I simply posed the question via Desmos. **As a side note, out of 23 students, 4 had used Desmos in high school and 2 had used it in a UC Math course**

Graphs included:

I love the various interpretations of ‘graph.’  Some used the time/distance axes while others graphed a picture as a physical representation of their emotions.  The best part, however, were the discussions following the graph-making.  In pairs, students had 3-4 minutes with each prompt where they first introduced themselves and then discussed each.

  1. Choose a graph that’s interesting to you.  Discuss your interpretation of it.
  2. Choose a graph that you have questions about.  Discuss what questions you would ask of its author (these were displayed anonymously on the teacher dashboard).
  3. Choose a graph which you believe includes the President Trump’s inauguration. Discuss why you’re confident of this.
  4. Do you think this is an activity which connects math and social justice?  Why or why not?  What kinds of conversations do you think teachers should (or should not) be having with young kids about politics right now?

A class, which up until then had been nearly silent, roared to life.  Although question #3 felt like it came out of left field, I could tell by looking at the many grins and nodding faces when I read it that there were many who had included the past days’ political events and were excited to have me acknowledge them explicitly.   I can’t wait to continue this thread throughout the semester.

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One thought on “Desmos For Social Justice Part Deux

  1. Ali, I love this post for many reasons, not the least of which is the many many ways your students used Desmos and graphing to express themselves. I plan to show these images to an 8th grader I’m tutoring now, who is in the linear functions chapter of Algebra 1. These might blow his mind in a really wonderful way!

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