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Math Blog

A K–8 resource to support deep comprehension of math skills and concepts

January 27, 2022 other-professional-development

DEI–Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity in the Math Classroom

DEI is more than just a buzz term. It is an ongoing commitment that every educator must make to ensure quality math instruction for ALL students. In this article, learn more about DEI (diversity, inclusion, and equity) and the benefits of ensuring that your math classroom is supportive of all students! Plus, download a DEI Implementation Tip Sheet that will help you focus your efforts in key areas.

dei-diversity-what-does-dei-mean-for-math-classroom

What does DEI mean?

DEI stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Definitions for each element of DEI significantly differ by source and context. Here, we are acknowledging diversity, equity, and inclusion as an approach that educators take to acknowledge and celebrate differences, ensure safe and supportive environments, and provide invitations for every student to learn and work together. As educators, we can consider these three concepts simultaneously when we are planning, engaging with students, and reflecting on our practice:

  • Diversity: recognition that each individual brings their own perspective into the classroom that results from their life experiences.
  • Equity: assurance that every child is provided the opportunities and resources to learn, participate, and thrive.
  • Inclusion: feeling as though one is a part of the group. In education, this means that our practice should allow every student to feel they are present and a part of the educational process.

The Benefits of DEI (Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion)

The power of focusing on DEI cannot be understated, especially at this moment in time when there is still so much uncertainty and inconsistency in our world. Engaging in DEI can be done with simple, small actions taken to make your classroom a safe space for all of your students. The result of many small acts over time will be significant.

  • Students need to feel belonging now. In a year that is still anything but normal, students need to feel they belong in their school community. They need to see similarities between themselves, their peers, and the content they are learning. Small acts like using students' names in math problems, using the context of a story that a student shared with you problem solving, or asking students to bring something from home for a lesson can help them feel connected to each other and the content they are learning.
  • Intellectual stimulation.  Allowing students to share their life experiences enables their peers to obtain a fuller understanding of the world they live in. They can learn to appreciate the different experiences and perspectives of their peers. Their curiosity will be peaked, and they will leave math class each day wanting to learn more about how math connects to their lives. Math becomes a way to explore the world that surrounds them.
  • Necessity for society. In the future, students will move into an ever changing and fast paced world. They must be prepared to work with all types of individuals from all different backgrounds. It is our duty as educators to prepare every student for the world they will be living in. Scaffolding supports and differentiating activities ensure students have equitable access to opportunities now and in the future.

DEI in Action in the Math Classroom

Math is a unique subject because DEI efforts can be spread across three areas: believing in students’ math abilities, acting on DEI in the classroom, and teaching our students about DEI through math content.

BELIEVE

To start, an educator must believe in diversity, equity, and inclusion. This entails grounding yourself as a teacher in beliefs that every child has the ability to learn, every child is a mathematician, and math is a powerful tool which every person should have access. When acting on these beliefs, teachers may attend their own mindset ensuring they maintain that of a growth mindset and continuously strive to close the gaps in educational attainment and access amongst minority groups.

Math is a unique subject because DEI efforts can be spread across three areas: believing in students’ math abilities, acting on DEI in the classroom, and teaching our students about DEI through math content.
ACT

Secondly, DEI can be carried out through the teacher’s actions and expectations. Every choice that is made in curriculum selection, instructional strategies, assessment, and lesson reflection can be made with the consideration of DEI. Day to day, teachers can ensure students have access to rigorous problems enacted with equitable practices that ensure every student has the opportunity to succeed. Teachers can design their classroom space to ensure students feel they belong by hanging up student work and welcoming students into the space. Teachers must know their students and where they come from in order to select rich math tasks that appeal to the interest of all students.

TEACH

Finally, the math teacher has the important job of teaching students how to ensure they have the skills to promote the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion. In mathematics, students can study data in order to evaluate the degree of success in ensuring feelings of inclusion and belonging. For example, social justice issues and topics can be used as the context for problems, students will learn to establish and justify their own opinions, and students will analyze facts and data for themselves to determine if they are told with accuracy and transparency by studying data and statistics.

 

5 Practical Steps for Immediate Impact in your Math Classroom 

Here are 5 tips to begin actively engaging in diversity, equity, and inclusion in every step of the teaching process.

1.) Learn about from where your students are coming. Knowing about the cultures and traditions that your students are accustomed to will help you ensure that all students feel represented by the problem contexts that are used in the math classroom. Try to learn about the languages they speak, the traditions they participate in at home, the community activities they enjoy, and the types of work that their families/guardians do. Knowing this will give you perspective into the diversity your students are bringing to the table and allow you to diversify problem contexts such that students can be proud of their background or culture. 
 
2.) Know your students. Feeling like you belong starts by simply hearing your name. One of the most endearing things that you can do is welcome your students into the classroom each day and say their names. This will help them feel seen and included and help you build relationships with your students as each day will start with a positive interaction. As the year progresses get to know your students more by learning about their hobbies and interests, their families, and by sharing stories back and forth to continue building relationships.

3.) Use inclusive instructional strategies every day to allow every student to participate. The more ways students can participate in your math class the better! Allowing opportunities to write, speak, and draw responses will help all students feel comfortable sharing their ideas. Instructional activities such as Think, Pair, Share allow every student an equitable opportunity to talk and share their ideas. In these short, small group conversations, students are exposed to the diverse strategies used to solve problems in math. Other strategies such as the Muddiest Point allow students who are normally quiet or unwilling to share the opportunity to feel comfortable sharing their challenges. Ask students, “what was the muddiest part of solving that problem?” Acknowledging difficulty helps students feel like they belong amongst their peers as they likely have similar questions and challenge points.
 
4.) Develop group guidelines. DEI can become a core part of the foundation for your classroom. Principles that many schools already emphasize including respect, integrity, honesty, and responsibility all play a role in DEI. Developing group guidelines that emphasize these characteristics as well as those such as belonging, and inclusivity will support the effort you are making even when you can’t be at every single group during partner and group work. Students need to be committed to this just as much as you because they also want to feel celebrated and included. Group work norms including taking turns speaking, allowing everyone the chance to speak, working together, and sharing ideas not just solutions are ways students can act on DEI.
 
5.) Reflect on your practice through a DEI lens. Evaluating every part of your practice will enable you to find the elements most in need of change. Some questions you can consider asking yourself are: did all students have access? Did all students seem interested? Did all students have the background knowledge necessary to engage in the task? Who was left out; was there a certain group of students left out?
DEI Diversity Inclusion Equity Math Classroom

Download Now

For more actionable tips, download a DEI Implementation Tip Sheet with questions to help you reflect on your DEI efforts in the math classroom and suggestions to help you focus your efforts in key areas.

In Summary

By incorporating these simple practices to support DEI, you’ll see the impact and experience the benefits in your math classroom.