Learning with Students: Resources for Making the World More Just With Mathematics

Numeracy is more than math. Numerate behavior involves managing a situation or solving a problem in a real context by responding to information about mathematical ideas that is represented in a range of ways and requires activation of a range of enabling knowledge, behaviors, and processes. 

We can use math to explore and impact social justice issues in our lives and country. Our students live in the world, and by inviting them to explore what is happening around us, we allow them to bring their whole selves into our classrooms. We also give them space to make sense of the world in a learning community and show how math can be a tool in that sense-making. We can learn with our students how to use math as a tool to understand, reimagine, and when necessary, change our world.

Below is a growing collection of resources for engaging students in exploring social and political issues in math class. 

(Note: Any text in blue is a resource link)

What do you notice?

How do you feel?

What do you wonder?

What will you do?

Dr. Laurie Rubel

Notice. Feel. Wonder. Act.

Dr. Benjamin Dickman

First, Do No Harm

Adult basic education students often come from marginalized communities and injustice is not abstract to them. Our students don't need us or math to tell them that things like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, or xenophobia exist. But we can use math to analyze systemic oppression and structures with our students. But first, we must do no harm. As teachers we have to make sure our students are safe in these explorations. The article below by Dr. Kokka describes a study that shares a vision of what that can look like. 

Healing-Informed Social Justice Mathematics: Promoting Students' Sociopolitical Consciousness and Well-Being in Mathematics Class by Dr. Kari Kokka

General Resources

Math is a Civil Right: The Story of Bob Moses & the Algebra Project by Donna Curry (Change Agent, September 2018, Our Math Stories)

A Guide for Integrating Issues of Social and Economic Justice into Math Curriculum by Jonathan Osler (founder of RadicalMath.org)

Social Justice Mathematics and Science Resources - this incredible list of math & social justice resources was compiled by Dr. Kari Kokka

A Teaching Tolerance Guide to Race, Racism, and Other Difficult Topics with Students

Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards - Have you ever wondered what academic standards for social justice could look like? The Southern Poverty Law Center created this anti-bias framework for you, divided into four domains: Identity, Diversity, Justice, & Action. 

Math & Social Justice: A Collaborative Math Teacher Blog-o-Sphere (MTBoS) Site

Resources from the Creating Balance in an Unjust World Conference


  • What's Your Math Story? by Amber Fornaciari - This thoughtful How-to article from the Math Practitioner (Spring 2020) describes the benefits and power of stories and offers suggestions for having adult learners write their own math story. 
  • What Values Are Important to You? How Can Those Values Help You Learn Math? - This writing activity invites students to bring their values into the math classroom. Our values are what we lean on when we struggle. They give us strength. They are important to bring into math class and draw from when we challenge ourselves.

Cultural Histories & Connections with Mathematics

Social justice math is not just about hardships. We must make space in our classrooms for the celebration, honor, and joy of culture. 

Skellzies! (and other Student Research Projects on Mathematical Cultural Artifacts) - a ABE/HSE math teacher and ANN member Ramon Garcia worked with his students to mathematize cultural artifacts from their own lives. Inspired by Ramon, Brian Palacios, a high school teacher in NYC created a book with his students' math writings: "Ramon’s book reminded me that math can and should be generative and full of original thinking. It reminded me that my students arrive to class each day bearing mathematical gifts. So while it is true that our students need mathematics, it is also true that mathematics needs our students. It needs their perspective, their ingenuity, their questions, their culture, their stories. More than anything, it needs their voice. I wanted my students to understand this. I wanted them to see that they mattered to math."

    The Story of Fibonacci & the Math Ethnic Studies Framework - A K-8 math specialist writes about a lesson she did on Fibonacci and the spread of Arabic numbers through the lens of the Seattle Public Schools' K-12 Math Ethnic Studies Framework.

    Math in a Cultural Context Program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks

    Recommended by Amy Vickers, WI: "How can we connect with students' cultures to find math that is meaningful for them? I wish that formal adult education could be interwoven with the math that students could learn from an elder. The videos on this site show an example of how that could happen. How can you find out about the math that your students know and value?" 

    Black Lives Matter for Teaching Mathematics for Social Justice by Jacqueline Leonard (2020) Journal of Urban Mathematics Education

    Annie Perkins, a white middle school math teacher in Minnesota writes, "We as math teachers tend to only talk about white male mathematicians. Most of my students don’t look like that, and thus, they have few mathematical role models they can identify with. Take 10-15 minutes a week to research (read Wikipedia, that’s all you need) a not-old-dead-white-dude mathematician, and then take 5 minutes in class to tell your students about them.  Include a picture. It’s worth it, I swear." To help other teachers answer her call, she created The Mathematicians Project with ready to use biographies and pictures.

    • Annie also maintains, and updates, this list of resources for researching mathematicians who are Black, Latinx, Female, Indian, and Native American. 
    • You can also find out about Annie's #MathArtChallenges in the MathArt section of this website. Many of the activities involve mathematics rooted in place like Celtic Knots, Sona drawings, hitomezashi stitching, Islamic geometry, rangoli, and mandalas.

    Woke Math a blog by ESMathTeacher, one of the authors of the Seattle Public Schools K-12 Math Ethnic Studies Framework. "Methods are important. However, we do not need to center methods in class. We need to center stories. By centering stories in math class, we center humanity. When we center humanity we bring life back to mathematics."

    Statistical Literacy & The Stories We Tell

    In our information-based and data-driven world, statistics are power. The ability to understand, use, and analyze statistics is a civil need. Not to mention the ability to know when statistics are being used to manipulate information, often at the expense of marginalized people. Helping students create and reflect their own stories and communities through data and statistics allows them to become change agents in their own lives and communities. Making them informed-consumers of statistics can help them protect their hearts and minds. 

    3 Questions to Ask Yourself the Next Time You See a Graph Chart or Map (The Conversation, July 2020) - This article by Carson MacPherson-Krutsky gives an overview of the ways graphs and charts can give us the wrong idea - either because they were sloppily made or because they are designed to be intentionally misleading. It shows examples of graphs and data on the Coronavirus. 

    ANN Statistical Literacy Youtube Playlist - This growing collection of videos for students and teachers all deal with the importance of statistical literacy. 

      Slow Reveal Graphs is an instructional routine for promoting sense-making in graphs. Classroom-ready slides with paired texts can be found here: Social Justice Graphs

      • Disproportionate IncarcerationANN Past President Connie Rivera (CT) built a special collection of slow reveal graphs focused on a concept that fundamental to math & to justice - proportional reasoning. 
      • Crime & Punishment: A Tale of Changing Belief - by Jenna Laib (K-8 Math specialist, and creator of the Slow Reveal Graphs website) - "This is a story of how I changed a belief, first by learning from people who experience the world differently than I do, then through math/data. Both can be humanizing."

        Black Stats by Monique W. Morris

        Seven Ways We Know Systemic Racism is Real (Article giving examples of systemic racism in wealth, employment, education, criminal justice, housing, surveillance, and healthcare. Each category features a statistic to demonstrate systemic racism and then additional links for more information)

        Mona Chalabi is a data journalist (perhaps the only job title better than adult basic education teacher!), whose work is at the intersection of math, accessible data visualizations, public statistical literacy and justice. In addition to the resources below, she has several videos in the ANN Statistical Literacy playlist linked above. 

        Ideas for Math & Social Justice this editable Google Doc from the Math & Social Justice collaborative MTBoS website offers a growing list of sources of statistics and data which can be used as a starting point for math tasks and lessons. Topics include general resources, police and the criminal justice system, social bias/discrimination/prejudice, government & democracy, socioeconomic status & poverty, and migration/immigration/emigration

          The American Nightmare by Ibram Kendi (The Atlantic, June 2020)

          Are there materials for teaching social justice math you think should be added? 

          Please let us know - Social Justice Math Teaching Resource Suggestions

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