Passion for Teaching/learning Mathematics: A Story of Two Fourth Grade African American Students

Article excerpt


The intent of this study was to investigate the experiences and reflections of two African American children, their teachers, and their parents about mathematics learning and what these experiences imply for educators as they attempt to reform mathematics education to help all students gain a deeper mathematical disposition. A qualitative design employing in-depth interviews, participant observations, and the examination of relevant documents was used to explore the mathematical environments of two African American children. As the stories of these two children emerge, it is hoped that a better understanding about mathematics teaching and learning, grounded in the experiences of people of color, can be added to scholarship, thereby strengthening the chorus of "other" voices increasingly present in this study.


Current research studies indicate that our elementary grade students are performing better in mathematics and science proficiency tests of basic skills (Mullis, Dossey, Campbell, Gentile, O'Sullivan, & Latham, 1994; National Science Foundation [NSF], 1996). Also the results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) illustrate that the U.S. fourth grade students performed significantly higher in mathematics and science when they were compared to their counterparts from other industrial countries. However, research results show that our students do not possess deep conceptual understanding of these mathematical skills (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics [NCTM], 2000a; 2001a). The results are even more disturbing when they focus on minority students' achievements and their mathematical self-perceptions. The NCTM (2001b) states that "Mathematical power must be considered the right of, and the expectation for, every child" (p. 1).

In spite of the recent improvements regarding minority students' mathematical dispositions and narrowing the achievement gap between white and other minorities (I.e., African American, Hispanic, Native American, etc.), considerable disparity still exists. This incompatibility between white and minority students' attitudes and performances in mathematics carry economic and social justice implications (Bigelow, Harvey, Karp, & Miller, 2001; Campbell, 1996; Frankenstein, 1995; Ladson-Billings, 2001; Moses & Cobb, 2001; NCTM, 2000a, 2000b, 2000c; NCTM, 2001a, 2001b, 2001c; Ogbu, 1987; Secada, 1992). One might conjecture multiple reasons for these differences such as inadequacy of resources, unqualified teachers, disconnected and repetitive curriculum, as well as lack of a relationship between minority students' cultural backgrounds and their classrooms social norms and sociomathematical norms.

Problems of diversity have existed since the inception of this country, in fact they are an integral part of the history and creation of the nation as it stands. Often certain individuals have been perceived and treated differently than others in American society. Some of the questions regarding teaching and learning mathematics include: can the old patterns of race, class, and gender discrimination continue to exist in the face of changing population patterns? Can we (meaning mostly those who make policy decisions--legislators, superintendents, principals, teachers, and even parents) continue to support these old patterns; or can we transform how we (and others) feel and what we all believe for the sake of educating our children and sustaining the nation? "If the mathematics is deemed worthwhile to learn, then students in poor communities should have the same access to that mathematics as those in affluent communities" (NCTM, 2001b, p. 10).

We ought to examine the patterns of teaching and learning that exist for various groups in our schools. These patterns may not be the same for all groups, or the resulting performance levels and students' attitudes and beliefs toward mathematics would not be so different. …


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