Celebrating Blackness and Mathematicians of Color

Before I share how and why I celebrate Blackness and the Achievement BIPOC Mathematicians in my classroom, take a few minutes to watch this video of Alexis Scott, an electrical engineer.

After watching this video, think about your reaction to the clip or what Professor Scott’s have to do with us as math teachers.  When I asked the middle school math teachers in my district to share their reactions (in the chat on Zoom since that’s where we live for professional development nowadays), they wrote things like:

  • I wonder if staff members at my school feel like this?
  • I am angry.
  • I worry this is how families of my students feel when they come to my school.
  • This makes me so profoundly sad.
  • Do I perpetuate this feeling in my classroom?

I shared this video to help explain how my commitment to celebrating BIPOC mathematicians has evolved over the past few years.

I first started thinking about this after reading high school math teacher Annie Perkins’s blog post and resources around mathematicians are not just white dudes.  Soon thereafter I discovered Math-Teacher Educator Dr. Kristopher Childs’ slides on Black Mathematicians and Latinex in Stem and the website Mathematically Gifted and Black.

Screen Shot 2020-08-07 at 11.00.22 PMIn February, for Black History Month, I would use the last 5 minutes of class twice a week to feature a Black Mathematician on a slide.  As a class we’d read the information, then I’d ask students what fascinated them about this person and/or what questions they had.  We’d use our final minutes to Google the answers to their questions.  At the end of February I made a bulletin board with the printed copies of those slides.

However, over the past year, my thinking on WHY it’s important to feature BIPOC mathematicians in my classroom has evolved.  It’s not just my BIPOC students who need to see themselves reflected in the successes of professionals in STEAM fields.  My white students need to know of their incredible accomplishments as well.  As Professor Scott so poignantly reminds us in her Ted Talk,  BIPOC mathematicians are constantly made to feel invisible by people not believing they have accomplished all that they have.  And I want to do everything in my power to ensure that this eraser does not get perpetuated in my classroom.  My hope (which my students know well) is that they never make assumptions of who can or cannot be successful in their math and science classes and that my job as their teacher is to make each and every one of them believe that they belong, not just in my math class, but any math class.

So now I do the work of celebrating the accomplishments of BIPOC in STEAM fields all year long,  I aim for once a week during the last 5-7 minutes of class.

Here are a few examples of how this can be done.

Screen Shot 2020-08-07 at 11.09.30 PM

Take a moment and think to yourself: what you notice and wonder about this photograph.

When I asked our middle school math team (again in the chat on Zoom), their responses included:

  • I wonder if her earrings have great significance to her.  They are striking and beautiful
  • Her posture shows her pride.
  • She is wearing a lab coat from Harvard Medical School.
  • She looks like she knows something we don’t.
  • Her eyes tell 1000 words.

I then gave teachers 3 minutes to read this article about Lash Nolan, the first Black President of Harvard Law School.  I let everyone know ahead of time that 3 minutes wouldn’t be long enough to read the entire article, so not to worry.  The goal was just to learn a bit more about her.  Afterwards, I again asked them to use the chat, this tine writing something they would remember about Ms. Nolan.

As a final example, I showed teachers this video of Mimi Aung, a Burmese-American engineer at NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory.

Again using the Zoom chat, I asked teachers to share what interested them about Ms. Aung’s work or what questions they have about her work.

Several teachers asked factual questions which we were quickly able to answer through a Google search.  However the majority of comments focused on a central theme: what microagressions does she endure working with what appears to be exclusively men and nearly exclusively white men?

You could share any of these photos, articles or videos similarly to this.  And the conversation you have with students can be as brief or extended as you have time for on any given day.  Now that I have these conversations weekly, I know that some weeks we will go deeper into issues that arise and other weeks we won’t have time.  But over the course of the year, these conversations becomes an integral part of my math classroom and are used explore how ALL my students define a mathematician or someone working in STEAM.

I am happy to share my resource list of texts and videos with one request: that you will email or send me a Tweet as you discover more resources I can add.  This list allows me to do this work over the course of a school year, but honestly barely scratches the surface of the incredible work in STEAM fields happening by the BIPOC community.  I treasure your feedback.   The resource list is below:

Celebrating BIPOC and Women professionals in STEAM



1 thought on “Celebrating Blackness and Mathematicians of Color

  1. Pingback: Distance Learning Tips from Berkeley’s Middle School Math Team | Pi Crust

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