Friday, 9 June 2017

Inside out math problems - would you go gay with your maths?

I have just emerged from two days of very good learning at the WRPPA conference. I think that it is proper to thank the conference organisers, and the MC, who provided two days of a fabulous and balanced programme.

One of the features of the programme was 4 'Inspiration' talks from our young people. There was a talk from a fabulous boy from Wellington high school who talked about his primary school experience living with Dyslexia, there was a brilliant girl from Marsden Whitby who spoke about the way she set up her initiative 'Hygiene for the Homeless'. I have never seen a 17 year old girl talk about tampons with such ease! There were the awesome kids from my school talking about their Museum, and a very cool young woman who spoke about the organisation she set up as a high school student 5 years ago - Inside Out.

Inside out is an organisation that spreads awareness about homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, gender identity and sexual orientation issues within the school. She gave us some very compelling statistics as to why this was a primary school issue. A third of youth who identify as having sex, gender or sexual diversity know this before the age of 11. Further, many more of our students will be living in LGBTQ families.

She went through the usual suggestions that made me feel somewhat superior. Gender neutral uniforms (we don't have a uniform but if we did it would most definitely be gender neutral ) - CHECK! - Gender neutral bathrooms (we are about to embark on our toilet refurb and gender neutral bathrooms is in the plan) - CHECK! But then she went on to say that those were easy things to solve and that them alone were not enough - Hmmm.

She pointed out the high prevalence of homophobic language used in schools such as: That is so gay. 

She then discussed ways of bringing diversity into the Curriculum. She used the example of Maths problem solving questions. If we were to provide a truly inclusive curriculum we would have a decent sprinkling of maths questions that were LGBTQ friendly. I had a quick look at the NZ Maths problem solving section and noticed that NONE of the 300 plus problems had any gender diversity.

I decided to have a look at these questions with such a lens and came up with this:

A farmer can see nine sheep if she looks out of any of her four windows.
Her wife gives her a new sheep.
Which paddocks can she put the new sheep in so that she can still see nine sheep from each of the four windows?

Or how about this one?

Paul is talking to his boyfriend James on the phone.
He is trying to describe a pattern to James but he can’t find the words.
If Paul’s pattern is: 3, 7, 11, 15, …how can he describe to James how to get any member of the number pattern?
How can Paul tell James how to get the 50th number in as simple a way as possible?

Then I got very honest with myself. Have I ever used such a maths problem in my maths programme? Nope. Would I be willing to go into school on Monday and do this without over-thinking it? Probably not... Would I send the above questions home for homework without fear of getting 'feedback' from whanau?

But don't I live in Aotearoa where "The protection of LGBT rights is the most advanced in Oceania and one of the most liberal in the world, with the country being the first in the region and thirteenth in the world to enact same-sex marriage?   

Maybe we are not as rainbow friendly as I thought we were. Yes, we are planning on building some gender neutral toilets ... but is that enough?

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