Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Learning from Math Circles: Providing underserved students of color with accessibility to mathematics education
by Winful, Audrey M., Ed.D., Mills College, 2009, 151; 3389940
Abstract (Summary)

Consistently high minority failure rates in high school and college mathematics, the noticeable decrease in access to mathematics education for our underserved students of color, and this mathematics educator’s genuine belief in the global necessity, desirability, and applicability of engaging our youth in learning mathematics through Math Circles, have each prompted the development of this research dissertation. Although this study focuses on the opportunities for mathematics learning that underserved students of color might receive in Math Circles, I acknowledge that there is an ever-increasing interest in student motivation, identity formation, and the relationships encouraged by Math Circle educators, in their attempts to engage these students’ intellectual curiosities and to explore challenging mathematics.

Of immediate importance is the fate of our underserved students of color, which is why I strongly advocate for investigating Math Circles as one potential strategy for motivating them. The urban Math Circle (consisting largely of students of color) that I studied, focused on the process of discovery and open-ended exploration, and was designed to introduce students to the deeper kinds of mathematical thinking that are invariably absent in most standard curricula. In addition to encountering exciting material far beyond that treated in a regular classroom, students joining this Math Circle had the opportunity to interact with professional mathematicians and educators in an informal setting. The cooperative (rather than competitive) environment of this Math Circle, where challenging mathematical questions were posed, and congenial conversation between students (and between teachers and students) took over, provided a milieu for possible mathematics learning and further success in mathematics for these students of color.

Future studies of Math Circles as a means of providing access to math education to underserved students of color could be expanded to include multiple-case studies, i.e., a larger sampling of Math Circles. Triangulation of data across multiple cases might add an even richer level of analysis. If we, as mathematics educators, are to avoid failing our underserved students of color, I believe that we must find ways to provide them with equitable access to mathematics education. Investigating an urban Math Circle committed to promoting mathematics learning by students of color has the potential to inform changes in the way we teach mathematics, changes that can result in improved achievement by students of color and greater equity in mathematics.

Keywords: mathematics, Math Circles, underserved, motivation, identity formation, epistemological beliefs, multicultural education, ethnomathematics.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Donahue, David
Commitee: Cossey, Ruth, Ketelle, Diane, Treisman, Uri
School: Mills College
Department: Education
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 71/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Mathematics education, Curriculum development
Keywords: Ethnomathematics, Identity formation, Math Circles, Mathematics, Multicultural education, Students of color, Underserved
Publication Number: 3389940
ISBN: 978-1-109-57298-8
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