Mathematics: Building Community

A while back I wrote a post on “Geometry and the Homeless.” That post was after my first year if partnering with Mobile Loaves and Fishes Community First on a service-learning project for my advanced geometry students. I have now been blessed to have worked with MLF on service-learning projects for the past three years.

Here is a video on MLF’s heart for the Community First project:

I have worked with geometry students on designing RV covers, gazebos, bike racks, and spiral herb gardens. Below is a picture of last year’s winning gazebo design and the current building progress:

photo (1)IMG_2246

I am beginning my dissertation this summer. It will focus on the benefits of service-learning projects in mathematics and it will specifically examine the partnership between my students and MLF. So needless to say, you can expect a lot of future posts on this topic. Ultimately I believe that service-learning is an incredible way to impact a student’s appreciation of mathematics. To use terminology that I’ve written on before: service-learning is an excellent tool for cultivating mathematical affections.

While you can expect much more on this topic here, I wanted to share a recent video that I came across of other institutions partnering with MLF through the process of service-learning. The institution in the video below just so happens to be my alma mater of Texas A&M (Whoop!): Aggies design, build ‘tiny homes’ for homeless as part of curriculum – The Eagle: Local News.

Tiny House Video from TAMU College of Architecture on Vimeo.

Here are a few quotes from the local article that accompanied the video that speak to the impact of this type of project on the learning outcomes the students experienced:

Construction science senior Laura Malek said working on a project that was going to help a “great cause” was a huge motivator during the process. The project also mimicked a real-life work environment, she said, by bringing together students who wouldn’t normally work together.

“Today was so much fun,” she said. “It was amazing to actually see our work in place and actually get some outside feedback. It felt a little surreal to finally see it there today finished and painted. It meant a lot. People seemed to really enjoy the space and that felt really great after our hard work.”

An interesting side note is that the student quoted in the story is the sister of one of the students that was a part of the first ever service-learning project I initiated (see: Serving through Statistics).

Like I said, there will be a lot more to come on this.

Always feel free to contact me if you have any questions about implementing service-learning into your math class.

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From the Classroom to the Community (and back again): Stories of Statistics, Significance, and Service

This week I am giving two different talks at the 2015 Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Antonio, TX. What follows is information relating to the second talk. You can find my first talk here. My first talk was on cultivating mathematical affections – how we can change the way we understand affect in math education to produce students who value their mathematical experiences. My second talk is actually one practical example that can you can implement in the classroom to instill in students an appreciation of mathematics.

This talk was for a session on best practices for teaching introductory statistics. The focus of my talk was on integrating service-learning projects into the statistics curriculum, a topic that I have written about numerous times here at GodandMath. In addition to the resources that you will find below, feel free to check out some of the prior posts on service learning:

  • Serving through Statistics: the first (and largest) service project that I implemented complete with video summaries and interview with students.
  • AP Stat Reading Best Practices Presentation: Short presentation I gave on service learning in AP Statistics at the 2014 AP Statistics Reading in Kansas City, MO.
  • CAMT 2012 Presentation: Presentation I gave at the Conference for the Advancement of Mathematics Teaching based on the first statistics service-learning project mentioned above.
  • Geometry and the Homeless: the first service-learning project I did with my geometry students. An updated version from this last school year should find its way onto the site by mid summer.

ABSTRACT:

This presentation will outline the design, implementation, and evaluation of service-learning based statistics projects in which students partner with non-profit organizations in their local community. These projects synthesize the major concepts of experimental design, data analysis, and statistical inference in the real-world context of community service. Through these projects students integrate their conceptual understanding of statistics with the practical functioning of their local community, ultimately gaining a deeper appreciation for the role statistics plays in the organization and evaluation of service societies. Successful examples and practical resources will be provided.

PRESENTATION:

Below you will find the PowerPoint that accompanied my short 10 minute presentation (click on the image below to access the PowerPoint). Due to time constraints, the meat of the information can be found in the resource documents that I have also included below.

serving

OUTLINE:

The main question I aim to address  is this: what is the best resource that a teacher can introduce into his/her statistics classroom to help students make meaningful connections between course material and the true value of statistics?

I don’t think it is technology (be that calculators, iPhone apps, online applets, or statistical software packages) which is often discussed as a teaching aid in statistics. I don’t even think that is integrating current articles and published studies into classroom discussion.

Don’t get me wrong, both technology and current events can be powerful pedagogical tools and there certainly is a place for them in the classroom. As a teacher who regularly uses technology and “real-life” articles in my lessons, I would like to submit to you that there is actually something else, something better, that when used well can really cement the value of statistics in the hearts and minds of students. That something: service-learning. As it turns out, I think the best resource that you can introduce into a statistics classroom is to actually get the students out of the classroom and into the local community.

Why I think service-learning is an effective vehicle for communicating the significance and value of statistics to students:

  1. Students are actually doing statistics. 
    • There is something about the physical practice of getting outside the classroom to collect and analyze data that implants an appreciation for the processes of statistics into students.
  2. Students are actually doing statistics in an unfamiliar/uncomfortable (read: human) way.
    • In service-learning there is interaction with actual human beings. The data on the paper now has a face and the analysis becomes a little messier and less clinical. I find this tends to stretch students out of their comfort zone in a good way. It also encourages their focus to shift from individualistic outcomes (such as what grade they might receive) to more altruistic aims of education.
  3. Students are actually doing statistics in an unfamiliar/uncomfortable (read: human) way and they (as well as the community) are experiencing firsthand the fruits of their labor.
    • I require students to complete their project by giving an oral presentation to the service agency. Interpreting confidence intervals/levels, p-values, and significance levels becomes so much more meaningful to students when they have to explain these concepts to a service-agency and build connections for the agency as to what to do with this information practically moving forward.

DESIGN:

  • A non-profit service agency which requires survey research for program evaluation, grant applications, or client needs assessment is identified by the students.
  • Students will participate in a group which will provide the following services:
    • Meeting with agency and developing a survey instrument
    • Piloting and conducting survey*
    • Compiling, organizing, and analyzing data
    • Presenting final results to the agency
  • The teacher acts as a consulting facilitator outside of the direct chain of project command

KEYS TO SUCCESS:

  • The Power of Choice
    • Students have a vested interest in a personal topic
    • “How can we apply the concepts learned in statistics to benefit our local community/service agencies?”
  • Meaningful Applications
    • Real life scenario with real people
    • The “Aha Moment” – Deep connections drawn from course material to project implementation
  • Improving Civic Mindset, Professionalism, and Presentation Skills
    • Obligation is to the community/organization, not just a grade
    • Comfort levels stretched through community interaction
  • Required Reflection Beyond Calculations
    • Students chose the topic so they have to defend why it matters
    • Importance of statistics cemented

NEED FOR REFLECTION:

  • “Some people may think that this reflection process refers to a kind of ‘touchy-feely’ exercise that might be quite foreign to the mathematics classroom. I prefer to think of it as the processing of a rather complex set of experiences to assure that students share and solidify their insights and thus obtain maximum lasting benefits. This has actually been one of the most important contributions of the service-learning initiative.”
    • Hadlock (2005)
  • “Service-learning in its most effective and well-developed sense is more than another name for ‘real-world learning’ and consists of more than applied work in the public/non-profit sector. It involves a multilayered reflection process that can substantially increase its educational value in a broad sense…. Service-learning reflection asks the learner to become more aware of what he/she brings to the learning process: values, assumptions, biases – many of which are unexamined and potentially problematic….To leave these aspects unexplored would be to miss a vital educational opportunity, for they invariably stir up thoughts and feelings highly deserving of reflection and discussion.”
    • Zlotowski (2005)

Check out the presentation and the resource documents for more information. Always feel free to contact me through this site if you have any further questions or want to discuss the topic in more detail.

RESOURCES:

EXTERNAL RESOURCES:

Geometry and the Homeless

This week I had the pleasure of writing a short note about my Geometry students’ spring project for my school’s newsletter. I thought I would include that below (as well as some pictures that weren’t included in the newsletter). I’ll provide a full write up here upon the completion of the semester.

Regents School of Austin eNewsletter

Regents high school students are partnering with a local ministry to apply their math skills. Please read this inspiring story from Mr. Josh Wilkerson. He is one of our math teachers in the School of Rhetoric.

~ Rod Gilbert, Head of School

1 Peter 4:10 commands us: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

I use this foundational truth as the basis to address that customary question of the high school mathematics classroom: When am I ever going to use these math concepts? God instilled a mathematical gift into every human being, enabling humanity to fulfill the purposes of the Great Commandment (to love our neighbors) and the Great Commission (to take the good news to all people). How might we employ our “math-mindedness” in serving others as the Apostle Peter commands?

Mobile Loaves and Fishes (MLF) ministers to the homeless community here in Austin. They recently purchased a tract of land on which they plan to construct an affordable living community for the chronically homeless called Community First. The acreage includes space for trailers, RVs, micro-homes designed by University of Texas architecture students, a large garden with animals, a workshop, chapel, and a medical facility all in the hopes of being a self-sustaining community. The vision of Community First seeks to overcome the homeless mindset and demonstrate that home is more than a physical structure. Home is relationships and far more than just a roof.

MLF graciously allowed our freshman geometry class to participate with them in this project. They have asked our students to utilize their understanding of geometry by designing an awning for RVs. These awnings provide shade and protection to the roof of the RV but it is also creative and energy efficient. Furthermore, these awnings contribute to the mission of MLF in developing relationships and fostering true community.

This past Monday the students visited the MLF Community First project site so they could see the immediate fruit of their labor. The students spent time hearing directly from MLF representatives about their vision and their heart for the homeless, and also about the very real need they have in their design process that the students can meet. There were many questions asked, many measurements taken, and then more questions asked. The MLF representatives were very accommodating and thrilled to see the excitement that the students of Regents had over this opportunity. At the end of the project, these same MLF representatives will travel to Regents to hear the presentation of each team of students and then select a winning design.

As their teacher, I marvel at these students as they mature to understand that learning has NO meaning unless it produces a sustained and substantial influence not only on the way people think, but also on how they act, feel, worship, and serve. I am excited to see what the remainder of this semester holds.

Josh Wilkerson
SOR Mathematics Appreciation Teacher
Appreciating AP Statistics and Geometry
www.GodandMath.com

Additional Pictures Not Included in the Newsletter:

Students hearing a presentation from MLF
Students hearing a presentation from MLF
Discussing layout with Dave Sekel of MLF
Discussing layout with Dave Sekel of MLF
Students analyzing the RV that they will design an awning for
Students analyzing the RV that they will design an awning for
Analyzing EVERY component of the RV
Analyzing EVERY component of the RV

Math and Mission

Any gift we’re given is meant to be of service — to be a blessing to the masses, and to ultimately to meet needs of others and not simply their wants and expectations.

~ Josh Garrels, on why he has given away so much of his music for free

As I’ve mentioned here before, I am a big fan of Josh Garrels. I spent four years in seminary and I don’t think I can teach theology as well as he does – and he does it through music. I was reading a recent interview with him and came across the quote above. “Any gift we are given is meant to be of service.” It is one thing to say this, it is another thing to live it out, and if you do any research on Josh Garrels you’ll find that he truly tries to embody this statement.

It is my hope that we will come to see the community of mathematics educators (and really all educators in general) commit themselves to this mantra: the gift of mathematics is meant to be of service. When I say “gift of mathematics” I’m not referring to just those people who have a natural inclination toward the subject. When I say “gift of mathematics” I simply mean the capacity to do mathematics and to think mathematically and this is gift that God instills into EVERY human being.

Over the past month or so I’ve hear several talks by people who truly understand that the church’s job is not retreat from culture but to engage it, and to engage it in a way that is distinctly Christian. Redemption doesn’t just happen at the individual spiritual level, it happens at a broader cultural level. The church’s job is to go out and get its hands dirty doing the work of service, and we accomplish this through the gifts that God has blessed us with.

One of the talks I heard was by Brian Thomas, an engineering professor at Baylor and faculty sponsor of Engineers with a Mission. His interests include developing simple, low cost, technologically appropriate ways to provide light and electricity to the poor of the majority world. He gave an excellent message on how engineering (which he defined as using math and science to solve problems for people) can be used as a missional gift and is an invaluable skill for doing ministry in the service of God and others. He has graciously allowed me to post the slides of his presentation below (all photos are copyrighted by Brian Thomas).

The second talk I heard was by Steve Vinton of Village Schools International. The purpose of Village Schools International is to “send missionary teachers to small villages in Africa to get involved in the lives of their students, that sharing the Gospel is the natural result of loving them.” While this is not a math-specific ministry, it does view education (of which mathematics is a large part) as a basic human need that the church can aid in meeting. I encourage you to follow the link above to read more about Village Schools International and to keep this ministry in your prayers. Specifically you can be praying for more workers, more open doors, and discernment for their leaders.

My goal as a math teacher is to instill within my students this same appreciation for how the gift of education (and mathematics more specifically) is not just for their own betterment in life, but it should be used in service of others. I’ve posted before on service-learning projects that I’ve implemented and when this semester comes to a close I’ll update you on the projects students completed this year (including my geometry class designing housing for a homeless ministry called Mobile Loaves and Fishes). I’ll also be serving on a panel for service-learning in mathematics at the ACMS conference this June and this summer I will completing an independent study collecting and analyzing the research that is out there on the benefits of incorporating service into the mathematics classroom. So look for updates in the coming months on practical ways to cultivate a desire within students to use their gifts (be it in math or any other subject) to “be a blessing to the masses.”

CAMT 2012 Presentation

Please read my previous post on Serving Through Statistics for a summary of the concept behind this class project. Below you will find the presentation that I gave at CAMT 2012 over this project as well as links to resources and project details.

Click the image above for the complete PowerPoint presentation on “Serving Through Statistics.”

Service-Learning Resources:

Mathematics Resources from the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse

An Introduction to Statistics Syllabus with a Service Component

The journal PRIMUS announces an issue dedicated to service-learning resources

General Project-Based Learning Resources from Edutopia

Serving Through Statistics Project Components:

Overview of Serving Through Statistics on the Navasota ISD Teaching and Learning Blog

My initial proposal to students on the idea of a service-learning project (much borrowed from the Intro to Stat syllabus linked above)

Voting form for subject of project and project managers

Proposal developed by project managers

Initial article on the project in the Navasota paper

Survey on Google Forms: English Version   Spanish Version

Results from Google Forms

Presentation Students Gave to Navasota ISD School Board

Presentation Students Gave to Navasota City Council

Publication of results in the Navasota paper

Student Self-Evaluation Form

Project Manager Evaluation Form

Guidelines for Final Write-Up

Serving through Statistics

Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.

~ Matthew 20:26-28

I wanted to do things a little differently with my AP Statistics spring project this year. I found in the past that the cumulative project I assigned in the spring (where students designed an experiment, collected data, and used a statistical inference procedure to draw conclusions) just didn’t hold their interest, and therefore the projects didn’t reflect the students’ best work. You have to keep in mind these are high school seniors getting ready to graduate, their GPA is pretty much set in stone regardless of their grade on this project, and they have already taken (and passed, I hope) the AP Stat exam. For some reason they didn’t want to go the extra mile on this stat project simply because it was an interesting application of statistics. Weird right?

Wrong.

Looking back, as a student I would probably approach the project with the same indifferent attitude. The solution? Make the project something truly meaningful that the students have a vested interest in. Of course this is easier said than done. As I racked my brain thinking of ideas I was blessed to receive this notice from PRIMUS (which I posted here on GodandMath):

The journal  PRIMUS announces a special issue on Service-Learning. Kelly Black, Karl-Dieter Crisman, and Dick Jardine will be guest editing the special issue, inspired by a MAA Contributed Paper Session on this topic at the Joint Meetings in 2011.

Service-Learning connects service to the community with academically-based learning. This is a growing concern on college campuses, sometimes even a mandate, but the mathematical sciences are often seen as a more challenging environment to bring service into the classroom.  In particular, there are only a few resources widely available on this topic specifically geared toward collegiate mathematics.  This PRIMUS special issue aims to provide a significant addition to this literature, with a number of tested ideas in a single volume as a pedagogical resource.

I thought a service-learning project would a be a great way for students to apply what they have learned in the classroom to their local community, and all in the context of serving – a Christian maxim that is easy to sell in a public school environment.

After a quick Google search I cam across the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse and their Mathematics resources. This was a valuable resource for me in planning out this project (especially Mark C. Hampton’s Introduction to Statistics syllabus).

I presented the idea to my students and I was amazed to see how excited they became over the project. They quickly determined the focus of their study: evaluating the aid provided to victims of Texas wildfires from last summer. The wildfires had come through our county and affected the lives of many of the students, their family, and their friends. I believe the ownership the students felt in selecting a topic so close to their hearts, as well as the incentive of presenting their results publicly (a commitment was made at the beginning of the project to present the results before the city council and to publish them in the local paper), truly made the project more meaningful. This resulted in motivated and dedicated students, new and interesting learning opportunities, and one amazed teacher.

I knew my students were awesome, but this brought it to a whole new level.

For more details on the organization and implementation of the project I invite you to visit Navasota ISD’s Teaching and Learning Blog for a nice write-up. Below is a video that the district so graciously put together:

I also had the fortune of being a finalist for the HEB Excellence in Education Awards. As part of the awards program, a film crew surprised me in my classroom and did an impromptu interview on this project. Below is their completed video:

If you would like more details, I will be giving a presentation over this project at CAMT (Conference for Advancement in Mathematics Teaching) this summer. Here is a link to the online catalog with the description of “Serving through Statistics.” Below are the mathematical/pedagogical goals of this presentation:

The goal of this presentation is to equip participants with the tools to successfully implement a project that synthesizes the major concepts of AP Statistics: experimental design, data analysis, and statistical inference. Through this project students will integrate their conceptual understanding of statistics with the practical functioning of their local community, ultimately gaining a deeper appreciation for the role statistics plays in the organization and evaluation of service societies.

My hope is to implement more projects like this next year and to begin expanding them to the other subjects I teach.

Geometry, I have you in my sights…with this idea.