Learning from the humanities to humanize mathematics

A breakout session from: The Virtual Conference on Humanizing Mathematics

Mathematics and the Humanities do not have to be polar opposites. So how can we move the math experience from being a series of Trivial Pursuit expansion packs, to a rich, rewarding experience –similar to what a reader encounters when sitting down with a classic novel?

I remember several years ago teaching a middle school classic novel unit where we identified and examined universal themes–themes that are interdisciplinary, transcend time, and generalize about life. These themes readily transferred to enduring understandings and essential questions for the entire unit. What can we learn from the humanities to humanize math?

Can math essential questions and enduring understandings be written more globally to capture the essence of a universal theme? When the appropriate EU and EQ are genuinely discussed in class we are one step closer to humanizing mathematics.

Examples of universal essential questions and related math concepts

“How can what we measure influence how we measure, and our actions?” Data sets, probability and sampling.

“Do relationships matter?” Ratios, proportional reasoning, linear relationships.

I know it is difficult to create universal enduring understandings and essential questions, but I think well crafted, content specific EUs and EQs will also humanize mathematics. Recently Julie Wright shared on Twitter this draft which clearly defines the qualities of essential understandings and essential questions.

Help me: What thought provoking and enduring essential question would you suggest for a unit on expressions and equations?

I am not an expert, but I think maintaining equivalence should be included. Perhaps the reference to number properties is necessary as well. It’s crafting the right question that has eluded me. I hope you will free me of my writer’s block.

Additionally, I’d love to learn your thoughts on using enduring understandings and essential questions to humanize math.


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