In this post, I am considering how to create a math activity that promotes social justice. As stated in Gutstein (2003), “An important principle of a social justice pedagogy is that students themselves are ultimately part of the solution to injustice, both as youth and as they grow into adulthood. To play this role, they need to understand more deeply the conditions of their lives and the sociopolitical dynamics of their world” (p.39).
To this end, I thought about teaching the concepts of radius, area, and ratios by investigating the phenomenon of food deserts. I work with middle school students at two locations in Grand Rapids, River City Scholars Charter Academy in the Oakdale neighborhood and the Cook Humanities Library in the Grandville Avenue Corridor. Both buildings serve as community hubs– with the vast majority of kids walking to and from their homes. Both also are located in areas that are not within walking distance of quality grocery stores. Instead in both areas there is only access to convenience and party stores, in order to get a good selection of quality fruits and vegetables, one needs to have a car or ride the bus.
The activity would begin with a discussion on the importance of eating fresh fruits and vegetables for promoting health.
In the activity, students would be given a map of their neighborhood and the neighborhood of a school in a nearby suburb (East Grand Rapids and Walker respectively). Students will use a compass and a ruler to cordon off a 1 mile radius. They will mark all of the different food stores in that area, classifying them as convenience or full-service grocery. They will then measure the area of the various stores and make a chart totaling the area of available food sources. Eventually they will present the data in a chart comparing the ratio of of types of food stores with in the mile radius of the two locations.
One concern I have about the activity is that it would leave students feeling a little disempowered. To combat this, I would invite community organizations that are addressing this food desert issue to come into the class (Urban Roots and the YMCA Veggie Van, for example).
Gutstein, E. (2003). Teaching and Learning Mathematics for Social Justice in an Urban, Latino School. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 34(1), 37-73. doi:10.2307/30034699
Understand ratio concepts and use ratio reasoning to solve problems.
Solve real-world and mathematical problems involving area, surface area, and volume.