In the spirit of UN Day this past November 2020, I designed a project that combines aspects of the Mathematician Project inspired by Annie Perkins from NCTM and also mathematics from different cultures and perspectives. We ended up implementing this project department-wide and I’d like to share it with you here (scroll down for an editable Google Slides link of the project).
The purpose of the project is to highlight a mathematician or maths concept that is underrepresented in popular culture. No offence to Euclid, Pythagoras, Pascal, and the like, but do a quick image search of “famous mathematicians” and you’ll most likely get a bunch of white-dudes like this:
Not to say that there’s anything wrong with old white dude mathematicians, but it’s high time we recognize some of the diversity out there. I think it’s important for our students to see examples of maths and mathematicians that they relate to. Bottom line, EVERYONE can achieve maths at high levels.
The second option gives students an opportunity to explore a maths concept or idea typically not covered in a regular K-12 curriculum. Some sample topics include:
- Origins of Zero (India, China, Mayans, Babylonians)
- Early calendars
- Infinity and the aleph numbers
- History of chess
- Mathematics of Eastern countries
- Islamic mosaic art
- Construction of 4×4 magic squares
Topic ideas inspired by the Global Math course developed by Dave Ebert.
Students are given a brief outline of what to include for each option and must put together an engaging 3 – 5 minute presentation for their topic. For my Algebra II students, the best part of the project was the presentation portion. Each group of students (or individual, if they chose to work alone), was assigned a lower school classroom (grades 1 – 6) to present their findings to. Not only did the students have to research and learn about their topic, but they also had to find the best way to engage their specific audience.
The students had fun sharing their learning with the lower grades and were humbled by the experience.
“Miss, they asked so many strange questions.”
“They were so excited when we said we had CANDY”
“I can‘t believe they don’t know how to solve one step equations.”
“They participated A LOT.”
These were some things I heard from my students. It was a valuable learning experience for them, and I was so proud to see my students shine. Added bonus: the teacher who’s classrooms the students visited were responsible for grading the presentation portion of their project (a simple checkbox style rubric), which helped me save some time.
What I Would Do Differently
Since it took a while to get the collaboration of lower school teachers, and approval from admin, I would start this process much sooner. This would also allow my students more time to tailor their specific presentations to the grade levels which they are matched with.
Next time, I would also had a specific section in the rubric just on the research and teach students how to effectively take notes and summarize information from their research. In addition, I would spend another class period on the anatomy of a good presentation and How to Avoid Death by Powerpoint.
Click to get a copy of the Global Maths Project and the rubric.