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The Complexity of Interweaving Mathematical and Sociopolitical Content In and Through the Classroom Space

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posted on 11.06.2014, 00:00 authored by Anita Balasubramanian
This dissertation elaborates the findings of a qualitative investigation of a year-long mathematics classroom in an urban, untracked, neighborhood (i.e., non-selective-enrollment) public high school in Chicago where students (all Latino/a and Black, from low-income families) and teacher co-created a classroom to read the mathematical word (learn mathematics) and read the world with mathematics (understand social reality using mathematics) using generative themes (key social contradictions) from students’ lives. It attempts to gain a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the complexities of this classroom where mathematical and sociopolitical dimensions were in a dialectical relationship. Using a theoretical framework synthesized from Vygotskian and Freirean perspectives, this study examines classroom interactions to understand how mathematical and sociopolitical dimensions were interwoven, how the teacher scaffolded these two dimensions, and the classroom features and student-teacher relationships that facilitated this interweaving. Data including field notes, teacher journals, video and audio recordings of classroom interactions, student work (homework, presentations, journal assignments, unit projects, etc.), and curricula from two of the year’s units offer insights into the complexity of the dialectical relationship between mathematical and sociopolitical dimensions in this classroom. The analysis indicates that these two dimensions were interwoven (foregrounded, backgrounded, and interconnected) in multiple aspects of the classroom (content, teacher and student utterances, and teacher pedagogical decisions) across time (daily, over few days, and the entire unit). Each generative theme offered different possibilities and challenges for mathematical and sociopolitical analysis and connecting the two. Moreover, the relationship between the mathematical and sociopolitical dimension in each unit guided the teacher in making pedagogical decisions on when and how to either foreground one of the dimensions or connect the two. The interaction features that emerged primarily created and sustained a dialogic classroom environment and helped build political relationships between students and teacher, which in turn facilitated the mathematical-sociopolitical interweaving. Several instances from the classroom interactions of the two units are presented to illustrate these themes and the tensions that emerged therein. The findings from this study will inform and inspire practices for teaching mathematics for social justice based on generative themes.



Gutstein, Eric


Curriculum & Instruction

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University of Illinois at Chicago

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Martin, Danny B. Varelas, Maria Schubert, William H. Mukhopadhyay, Swapna

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