Math Education That Matters: Integrating Math and Global Awareness in the Classroom

LEARNING TO BE FLEXIBLE 

As a middle grades math education major, Taylor Hildebrand knows that sometimes mathematicians have to be flexible. 

“I want my students to really understand that math is flexible, and it’s usable in their lives, “Taylor says. “I feel like a lot of kids think that math is nothing more than a procedure. ‘This is the answer. That’s how you get it. That’s the only way.’ And I really tried in my student teaching semester to encourage my kids to think about math flexibly.” 

A recent graduate of Gardner-Webb University and Alpha Chi National Council Representative for Region III, Taylor’s own academic flexibility was put to the test the semester before she started her student teaching. 

“A part of North Carolina teacher candidate standards is talking about Standard Two, which requires teachers to provide a safe and positive learning environment for students and diverse populations,” Taylor explains. “Part of that is being able to integrate global awareness into your lessons and within your teaching.” 

For her educational internship course, Taylor was asked to create a global awareness unit that also incorporated an interdisciplinary approach, by incorporating a standard from each subject area of the curriculum. These subject areas included English language arts, science, social studies, music, and physical education. 

And while Taylor sees herself as a very flexible, interdisciplinary teacher—who even considered teaching English at one point—the challenge was clear.

SOLVING THE PUZZLE

“Integrating global awareness and math is difficult in general,” Taylor explains. Unlike her peers in elementary education, her curricular schedule for the semester was already outlined, and the building concepts in middle grades math had to be followed closely. For this reason, she couldn’t maneuver the schedule to align with any specific real-world events, stories, or holidays. In the end, incorporating real-world global problems that aligned with the course curriculum for her seventh grade students, while also integrating various subjects was no easy feat. 

“I have 120 kids, and I have to teach them all the same math subjects but in 120 different ways to make sure they all get it.”

Taylor Hildebrand, of the students she taught in student teaching.

“The math course of study is huge. I had eight different units,  and I had to find one unit that I could plug in all these different subjects into.” “Getting to incorporate the other subject areas was my favorite part but also the hardest part,” Taylor says of her project. “It was kind of like a puzzle.”

In the end, her 40-page project outlining her 5-day unit of study transformed the traditional geometry unit on area and circumference of a circle by focusing on the global issue of natural disasters and subsequent preservation efforts. 

As Taylor began to look at incorporating a social studies unit on natural disasters, she realized she needed to narrow the scope of the subject and ultimately decided to focus her math unit on volcanoes. Using the 2018 Volcán de Fuego eruption in Guatemala as the primary case study, Taylor examined how each of her subjects could be incorporated around the study of circle area and circumference. 

Day one of her unit would be on both the vocabulary of volcanoes and circle measurements like “radius,” “diameter,” and “pi.” Day two would allow students to study the zones of impact involved in a volcanic eruption, measuring the distances from the danger zone, impact zone, ash zone, and safe zone, and discussing how the air quality and safety is impacted in each zone. Day three focused on evacuation systems and warnings, and Taylor’s students would leverage their musical education to create their own sound to be heard in broadcast towers positioned at varying degrees within the eruption’s circumference. Day four focused on preservation efforts and human modifications, and the students would learn how to protect homes positioned within the various zones of impact. The final day of the unit would be the application of knowledge where the students would discuss how using the area and circumference of a circle would be used to protect and evacuate people in the event of a volcanic eruption. 

Using an ‘agree or disagree’ assessment, Taylor would then quiz her students on their understanding of the unit by presenting a variety of statements around the unit that students with which had to agree or disagree. By showing their work and calculating out their answers, Taylor would more accurately gauge her students’ holistic learning of the various subjects centered around the geometry unit. 

While the active, in-person teaching of her unit was put on hold because of the COVID-19 restrictions, Taylor still ended up presenting her work at Gardner-Webb University’s research conference as well as through Alpha Chi’s virtual conference. And she hopes to bring the work she’s done into her future classroom.

MAKING IT RELEVANT 

Taylor says her goal in her future classroom is to encourage flexible thinking and the understanding that math is a subject her students will use for the rest of their lives. 

“I want to show my students that math is relevant in real world circumstances and everyday life,” Taylor says. “A lot of times math teachers, especially middle grades math teachers, run into the problem of students saying, ‘I’m never going to use this’ or ‘why does this even matter?’ I want kids to know that what they’re learning is going to be relevant in their lives and that also, as teachers, it’s not as hard as we think to really make engaging and relevant content in the classroom.” 

One way that Taylor worked to keep her students engaged throughout her student teaching process was with “number talks”–discussions on how to think differently about math. 

“I tried to help my students understand that everybody sees math in a different light, and that’s okay,” Taylor says. She explained to her students that they didn’t necessarily have to solve math problems quickly to be good at math; they just had to be willing to ask questions and keep trying. 

Taylor also used her number talks to incorporate global awareness in her teaching all semester. When she traveled to Slovakia with Gardner-Webb for a mission’s trip, she used her knowledge of travel and the Slovak language to welcome her students in a different language and present a math problem one of her Slovakian friends faced. 

“I tell my students, ‘Math is in everything you do. If you love to travel, I hope you like math because you use it with time zones. You can talk about mileage,’” Taylor says. “I think teachers need to understand that even incorporating little experiences that they’ve had with global interactions will be helpful in making content both engaging and relevant for students.” 

LOOKING AHEAD

A recent graduate, Taylor plans to begin teaching middle grades math in the fall and is considering eventually pursuing her master’s degree in Media Coordination to work for a school in library resources and technology. As Region III Student Representative to the National Council, as well as the most recent president of the North Carolina Zeta chapter at Gardner-Webb University, Taylor also spent much of her senior year encouraging Alpha Chi growth and participation. Through her Council membership, she worked on the Chapter Development Committee, a committee to encourage Alpha Chi chapters nationwide in their initiatives to reach and engage students, as well as the Membership Committee, a committee that performed extensive research on Alpha Chi chapters to ensure that each chapter remains active, involved, and well supported.