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.

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?


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.