Culturally Responsive Teaching in Mathematics

Hello all,

Starting Thursday, May 20, 2021, at 9:00 AM EST, our community will hold an asynchronous discussion on this thread about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the mathematics classroom.  This two-day forum will have one guest, Pam Meader, who will explore strategies to ensure all students feel included and welcome in the classroom.  She will discuss the importance of developing the identity of each student as a first step in accessing and questioning their mathematical thinking.  I am very excited to have Pam facilitate this discussion.  Pam Meader, a former high school math teacher, taught math in adult education for over 25 years. She is a curriculum developer and facilitator for Adult Numeracy Center at TERC in Cambridge, MA. She helped co-develop Adults Reaching Algebra Readiness (AR)with Donna Curry. She is a national trainer for LINCS and ANI (Adult Numeracy Instruction). Pam enjoys sharing techniques for teaching math conceptually from Basic Math through Algebra and has co-authored the Hands On Math series for Walch Publishing in Portland, Maine.

So Mark your calendars for May 20 - 21, be sure to participant in this discussion.  You may post any questions, ponderings, or musing you may have, go ahead and post them below.  I look forward to growing as a math practitioner from this community discussion.

Brooke Istas


Hi Susan, 

Like most publishers, the series is no longer carried by Walch but you can find it on There are a few copies at this link:  but I am thinking it may soon be out of print.


 “Education needs to enable the student to look through window frames in order to see the realities of others and into mirrors in order to see her/his own reality reflected.”  Emily Style, The Seed Project

This has clearly been a year of upheaval and transformation at home, at work, and in our communities. When the Black Lives Matter movement was spurred on by the killing of George Floyd and others, it stirred within me a need to know and understand more. I am a child of the 60’s having been through much social unrest then but being young, never fully addressing the underpinnings of that unrest. Given the pandemic, I had time to read and become involved in a social action group and it was there that my understanding deepened about racial unrest and how to begin to address that in the classroom. I read several books (Caste, How to be an Antiracist, My Grandmother’s Hands and I’m Still Here), watched a multitude of webinars, discussed, grappled with, and still have lingering questions. My hope is that in this discussion we can begin to explore equity by looking at and understanding the identity of each student in our math classroom.

Dr. Gholdy Mohammud asks that we view each student as a genius, and ask ourselves, What do they bring to the math classroom that makes them “shimmer”? So often we have already made assumptions about students by looking at tests scores or allowing our implicit biases on race or ethnicity to influence our perceptions of certain students’ abilities and motivational levels. As Dr. Muhammad says, “We won’t start our stories with terms like at risk, defiant, disadvantaged, unmotivated, comparing students to other ethnic groups, etc.

So where do we start? I have a few ideas but want to hear from you first. How to we begin to make every student feel included in the math classroom, that they matter and have much that makes them “shimmer” or as the opening quote states to provide windows and mirrors to understand themselves and others?

I am looking forward to great discussions these next two days.

Not just one of my favorite adult education classic stories to teach, little things are big is an idea I want to think more about and learn from other folks. There are so many great activities and resources I'm sure we'll explore in this discussion, but I don't want to neglect the fact that part of belonging and feeling welcome is feeling seen and making a personal connection. This is not a comprehensive list, but a partial brainstorm of the small things I am conscious of trying to do, especially when first beginning relationships with my students:

  • I learn every student's name, and use it, by the end of the first class.
  • We discuss community agreements instead of class rules including agreements we make with each other and agreements we make with ourselves. I include having them discuss expectations they have of me.
  • If a student tells me I can call them by another name because they think their name is too difficult, I tell them I will call them whatever they like but that they should know I value and honor their name and still want to learn how to say it correctly even if they go by a nickname (when I say that, most students end up asking me to use their actual name).
  • I honor student thinking and credit their ideas by name.
  • When a student has been absent or comes late, I thank them for coming.
  • I call homework, "homefun" and explain to students that I do that as a reminder to myself and as a promise to them to be mindful of the other parts of their identities that make demands on their time.
  • I give students time and the expectation that they learn and use each others' names.

Some writing activities I use:

  • Belonging - I learned this activity from a colleague, Eric Appleton. It involves reading a brief passage about belonging in class and how some people don't feel like they belong. Students then respond to a prompt reflecting on their own experiences of belonging in class and volunteers share. Then we open the discussion about what we can do to make sure everyone in the class feels welcomed. 
  • What Values Are Important to You? - I first started having students do this when I read about a study that claimed just asking the question had an impact of student results. Our values are the things that define us and we lean on, especially when facing difficulties. I like this activity because it is a step towards helping students realize that their identities and strengths belong in class. Every once in a while I have a student ask why we are doing this in a math class and when they do, I put the question to the rest of the class and their answers are always so inspiring, I secretly hope that some one asks.

A resource I highly recommend (which also came to me from Eric) is Moving Beyond Ice Breakers, which has dozens and dozens of brief activities designed to develop group dynamics with a really thoughtful protocol of short processing each activity (What was this activity like for you? What can we learn from this activity?)

yours in productive struggle, 




Thank you for sharing those valuable resources, all so wonderful. They clearly help with a student being recognized and feeling part of the class. A few days ago I listened to a webinar on embedding equity mindedness in a concrete way. The presenters talked about "invisibilization", the act of making someone feel invisible, and the importance of addressing this. That is why recognizing the identity of each student is so important. They suggested that  "getting to know you"  activities should go deeper to learn your student's context, families, and histories and to consider how this contrasts from yours.  I am certain Eric's resource, Moving Beyond Ice Breakers, would provide wonderful examples of this.

I am hoping that today I might see some posts but thought I would offer some suggestions. One activity I did at the start of my math classes was a student interview. I would have random students pair up and find out information on their classmate such as where they were born, favorite foods, etc.  Because my classroom had students from various countries, it was a chance to learn a little about their country, locate it on the map, talk about weather,etc  as I way of "noticing and learning" about each other. I had a world map in my room along with a map of the United States. We would collect the data on the board noticing some trends ( like favorite foods, hobbies, etc) and making bar graphs to illustrate. We would also write math sentences about the data using phrases like more or less than a half to compare data groups. 

Another thought is math journaling where you can communicate with each student privately about any concerns or struggles they might have with math. A math autobiography is another great tool to get to know your students better.

But recently I have been thinking more about inclusivity. On a whim I googled famous Black mathematicians which opened up a world of mathematicians I had never heard of that made great contributions to the field. And as with any search, it led to other avenues like the Mathematics Project started by Annie Perkins ( ) She suggests having students find a mathematician from their ethnicity and present that mathematician to the class. They would find so many interesting people and feel a connection to their identity in the process. In my quest, I have read about struggles and being overlooked for a long time and now we are learning about their contributions. For example, Benjamin Bannecker first noticed the cycle of cicadas but his research wasn't even considered because he was a Black man or Sophie Germaine, a woman mathematician who had to use a pseudo man's name to even have her brilliant work recognized. The list is endless and I think this would be a way to bring more cultural awareness into the math classroom. What do you think?


Yes! Representation is important. When I was learning about Annie's project, I loved it from the perspective of a teacher, but then I went looking for Puerto Rican mathematicians (my mother was born in Puerto Rico) and learned about Dr. Minerva Cordero of Bayamón, at the University of Texas at Arlington. Part of her story is how in 10th grade, she taught her uncle the math he needed to pass the GED, & realized helping people learn & enjoy math was her life's work. It was so exciting to find someone who was Puerto Rican and who not only knew what the GED was, but was inspired by the efforts of an adult HSE student, both important parts of my own identity! In addition to the power of learners seeing themselves and their communities reflected in mathematicians, I really appreciate that her collection includes both historical and living mathematicians, which carries the added bonus of representing math as something where people are still looking for discoveries and new answers, as opposed to something that is settled and only about getting the right answer that someone else already found. 

Another aspect of this expansion of who does math is valuing other ways of problem-solving and problem posing. That can be an everyday practice type of thing by asking non-routine problems and drawing out, analyzing, and honoring multiple student strategies. It could also look like math projects that elevate the math done in learners' families and in their communities. Lots of examples, but here are two Math and My Culture reports and creating books of students’ math writings.

I've been learning about the work of Filiberto Barajas-Lopez and thought I'd share a talk of his I came across recently called What Exactly Is School Math for?. It's only 5 minutes long, but in it he argues all cultures have rich mathematical traditions that we need to draw upon, and offers two powerful questions: (1) Do our students feel like their own culture is reflected in the math they are learning? (2) What opportunities exist for them to develop lasting mathematical identities?

Showing students pictures and asking them "Where do you see math in this picture?" is another way to generate conversation about math that happens and valuing the math in our students lives. I've collected some images on the Adult Numeracy Network website. "What math do you see?" is about halfway down the page of Instructional routines, which can be found here

yours in productive struggle,


Wow Mark more wonderful resources! Yes it IS exciting to read about mathematicians that we can relate to. As a woman, I was drawn to the women mathematicians that I never heard about and their powerful contributions.  I recently watched a PBS special called Picture a Scientist which I highly recommend  viewing.

While this discussion is about to close, please keep posting your thoughts. Thank you Mark for your contributions.

Thanks for that resource, Pam. Your comment reminded me of this video about Iranian mathematician, Maryam Mirzakhani, called Struggle to Success. It is only 2 minutes long and I think it would be great to use with students. Though she was a brilliant person working in areas of math well beyond my level of understanding, there is so much in her story we can relate to. She was the first woman to win Fields Medal (and it was first awarded in 1936) but in the 6th grade she was so frustrated by a math test and math teacher that she gave up on math and stopped trying. What I like most about the video is its description of Dr. Mirzakhani's path back into math being all about being able to make sense of it for herself, in her own way, which for her was through drawing and pictures.

yours in productive struggle, 


I'm late to the party but it's so interesting to learn that Benjamin Banneker observed the 17-year cycle of the Brood X cicadas. Thank you, Mark. According to a paper I read, he wasn't the first to notice this cycle, but his observations should have been included in the literature. Banneker observed the cicadas for 51 years (3 cycles)! 

This article includes excerpts of Banneker's journal:

As you might know, the 17-year cicadas are just starting to fade away in the Mid-Atlantic this year. My sister's family lives in Baltimore and I have been down a couple times to experience the phenomenon. It's unlike anything I've ever seen. Cicadas covering every tree trunk, weighing down branches, singing in cacophony. I can see why people thought it was a plague. 

Cicadas arrive in 13 or 17-year cycles. Does anyone understand why the cycles are prime numbers? 

It looks like 2024 is going to be another big year for cicadas. Take a look at this map to see where they're coming next.


The Math and Numeracy CoP sincerely thanks Pam Meader for her time.  As a Community, please feel free to continue this discussion.  Even though the event is over, we can still add to this rich discussion and important topic.  Let's not let it end here.

Brooke Istas