Slavery Math Questions? Cross-curricular? No.

Cross-curricular learning is powerful stuff.  We get the opportunity to take information from one area and apply it to another area.  It allows us to build connections and gain a deeper understanding of the concepts while allowing us to practice developing skill sets in mulitple disciplines.

Rephrasing a basic math question by inserting social studies terms is not the type of cross-curricular teaching that is going to prompt deep ah-ha’s.  In the 3rd grade classroom of a Georgia school, students, learning about slavery in Social Studies, were given math questions such as, “If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in 1 week?” and, “Each tree had 56 oranges. If 8 slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?”

On a visceral level these questions make me feel fairly nauseous because they take something horrible that happened and make it seem almost banal.

On a cognitive level, these questions are upsetting because they do nothing to actually deepen the students’ understanding of this time in history, the deeper social and economic issues, nor the need to think in terms of what our country represents and the efforts people have taken to make changes.  They have no context and with an issue such as slavery, it is irresponsible to present simplistic questions outside of that context.

I think it is quite possible that the questions were done without intentional malice, but they were myopic and simple-minded in their approach.  As well, they speak of a lack of awareness about the complexity of civil rights issues in our country.

A better question might have asked students to determine the profits made from fields of tobacco or to calculate the distances that Harriet Tubman traveled to help people escape from freedom.  There are SO many better questions that would help students understand the gravity of slavery AND help students recognize the heroic efforts of those who helped to end it.

Ideas for better questions than those used in that 3rd grade classroom?


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5 responses to “Slavery Math Questions? Cross-curricular? No.

  1. Your questions make a point and they learn! I think you need to develop an extracurricular studies guide! I would buy it for my little ones 🙂

    • Ahh – If only I had the time to develop such a guide! But even if I had the time, I sure don’t feel qualified to do it in isolation!! There is a great book called Anti-Bias Curriculum which was written quite a while ago and talks about activities in the early childhood classroom. I can’t recall much of it, but I remember making some changes in my thinking after reading it. I am toying with storytelling these days (toying means “way back in the recesses of my brain”) and I think there is a lot of room to teach anti-bias stuff within stories and traditional fairy tales (that have been revised).

  2. You’ve got to be kidding me? We live in Georgia…I hadn’t heard of that. Hope that got changed quickly. But the point of using math in everyday examples is most helpful. My youngest doesn’t like to sit in front of traditional problems but when put into words and in a context that makes sense — I’m surprised at how mathematical his mind is.

    • Kids learning math is pretty fun, huh! I love “math talks” with kids where you get to see them really tackling the concepts in all sorts of nutty logical ways. It is too bad that we don’t always give them those opportunities.

  3. Ah, dang. They were clearly going for something there, but sadly missed the mark. I would appreciate the attempt if the result hadn’t been so unsettling. Your questions are much better.

    Passing through from the NaBloPoMo Soup.

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