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Graphing Made Awesome. The Sequel.

Friends don’t let friends use ugly graph paper.

So you’re in class, trying to copy down your teacher’s notes from the board, and you’re like ‘OMG, I really want to copy down this GRAPH but I ain’t got no graph paper.’ So you try to draw a grid on your page buuuuuuut the scale is all messed up and your parabola looks more like a lopsided grin than a perfectly symmetrical smile, and your x-intercepts are WHACK, and all you can think about is how AWESOME it would be if you could just magically make a coordinate grid appear RIGHT in the middle of your page so that you could just straight up ACCURATELY plot those (x,y) points, you know?!

WELL. I hear you bro. Bigtime. THAT’S why I created THESE. AWESOME. STICKY GRAPHS!

They stick RIGHT into your notes – no graph paper necessary EVER AGAIN. BOOYAH.

Grab ‘em!

Small but Sweet ~ 3″x3″ ~ 50 Sheets ~ $2/pad!

~ 4″x4″ ~ 50 Sheets ~ $3/pad!

If you want to purchase these bad boys online ~ I’m happy to mail them out! Email me at and we’ll talk details!


“Math is a universal language, but our kids aren’t learning how to speak it”

I just wanted to draw attention to a great article that Maclean’s published this week.

It’s ridiculous that what curriculum developers are calling ‘progress’ is actually fully screwing kids over. Rote learning (drills in order to absorb math facts such as multiplication tables, addition, fractions, etc) is necessary in certain cases. While it may be boring – it’s been proven to work time and time again!

It’s also completely ridiculous that teachers, responsible for teaching math at the elementary level – a crucial level for building a mathematical foundation upon which students are expected to build upon – require minimal math knowledge.

This quote says it all: “If they don’t know their math facts, she says, they won’t be able to do fractions, which means they won’t be able to handle algebra, which means calculus is out, which means they can’t be engineers, doctors, pharmacists, economists, programmers, or any discipline that requires math, including skilled tradeswork. But one thing they can become? Teachers, who can go through the system with minimal math training and arrive in class expected to inspire children to create and conceptualize their own mathematical knowledge”

Totally worth the read ~ click here to check it out!

Imagining A World Where Paris Hilton Loves Mathematics: Published!

Ever wonder it might be like if celebs promoted the awesomeness of math, rather than like, the awesomeness of acting ditzy, wearing no clothes, and sloppy partying? Well, I do ~ So I wrote an article about it. Imagining A World Where Paris Hilton Loves Mathematics was just published in Power and Education, and you can check it out here! If you don’t feel like subscribing, email me at and I’ll send you the article for FREE!

~ ~

Treasure (P)island: The Final Product!!!


15 pies’ worth of crust. 15 pies’ worth of pumpkin/pecan filling. 25 kids’s worth of creativity and enthusiasm. You do the math!

Okay, I know. You’ve all been sleepless allllll weekend, WAITING for a pic of the epicness that took place this weekend. Well folks, eat your hearts out. Literally.

That’s right. Lindsay and I stayed up all night Friday, and legit made 15 pies worth of pie crust, THEN filled it with a layer of pumpkin pie filling, THEN a layer of pecan pie filling…and then…and THEN…the ACTUAL epicness began.

Seriously, we cannot beLIEVE the creativity of these crazy kids. Turtles, beach balls, a sunburnt fat dude with an ice cream cone, banana trees, a volcano, fish, sailboats, a (pi)rate skull & crossbones…like, total insanity. Speechless over here. (And not just because my mouth is STILL FILLED WITH PI(E)!)

Ya, my floor MAY be totally covered in fondant and corn syrup and sparkly-unidentifiable-potentially-edible things, but it was SO WORTH IT!

Now it’s time to win the Serious Eats Pi Day Baking Challenge! Stay tuned for our huuuuuuge blog post, which will detail how this madness went down, who was involved, and how to cast your vote to help us WIN AN iPAD!

PinkMath: Where Da (Grade 9) Ladies At?!

Calling all grade 9 girlies!

This year, I have the honour of presenting at a totally awesome conference ~ and you’re invited!

Here’s the deal:

Think About Math! (TAM) is a three day workshop at the University of Waterloo for high school girls demonstrating that mathematics is fun, relevant, and leads to exciting careers!

40 Grade 9 girls are selected to spend three days and nights in residence at the University of Waterloo, doing awesome stuff like…

Participating in hands-on activities showcasing the real world applications of mathematics

Meeting with cool women who have graduated with a math degree and are now rocking awesome careers

Competing in the Amazing Math Race (for real!)

Rocking a hip-hop class

There will totally be more mathematically-awesome surprises…but I’m not allowed to tell you what they are!

Applications are due March 5th, so apply online RIGHT NOW

AND, don’t forget to check out TAM on Facebook ~  become a part of the convo!

You Say ToMAto, I Say ToMAHto: Education Needs To Change ~ Part 2

Okay, so. 72 hours and 27 presentations later, MY BRAIN HURTS! Here are some of the themes, thoughts, and epiphanies that have emerged from my DPR10 experience.

Theme 1: “What do we NEED to know this for, anyways?!”
Inspired by Celina Czech, University of Adam Mickiewicz, Poland

One of the major themes that emerged from DPR10, was the PURPOSE of education. It almost seems like a ridiculous question, until you stop and REALLY think about it. So, as I asked in my last blog post: What IS the purpose of education? And WHO does education stand to benefit?

I’ve heard a lot of buzz about Neoliberalism, but have never really looked into what it’s all about. Celina Czech did an awesome job of explaining exactly what the politically-charged term means, and just HOW it affects us as teachers and students alike.

You can only IMAGINE how many times I get posed the famous “but WHY do I need to KNOW THIS?!” question. No really. You can only imagine. And I get it. Trust me, learning the quadratic formula seems entirely pointless to a 16 year old. Actually, come to think of it, the quad formula can seem pretty pointless to ANYone, regardless of age. Now, my answer USED to be something along the lines of: “well, you need to know the quad formula so that you can take MORE math classes and get into a decent uni program and get a decent job and make decent cash to live a decent life.” Until I realized just how SICK that was. And, Celina’s presentation brought to light just how Neoliberal-friendly that type of answer IS.

Neoliberalism basically refers to the idea that the actual PURPOSE of our education system, is to facilitate the growth of our economic system, aka Capitalism. Some key points include:

1. We live in a knowledge-based economy. That means that, technically, those with the most ‘knowledge’ (read: F-O-R-M-A-L E-D-U-C-A-T-I-O-N), should in theory be able to make the most money, and therefore be able to contribute the most in terms of the economic growth of our society.

2. “Success” = “Economic Contribution.” So basically, we measure success in terms of how MUCH one can contribute to the economy. I mean, realistically, most of us view education as a means to a better job which usually equates to more money which leads to, well, contributing the most in terms of the economic growth of our society.

3. Students should reinvent themselves to meet the needs of a ‘capitalist culture.’ Straight up.

So basically, the jist of it is: The most important thing is economic growth, aka money, and therefore our education system should be designed to pump out citizens who can make our country as rich as possible. Okay, that’s a bit simplified/crude, but pretty accurate, and when you actually exAMINE what’s going on inside schools these days, it becomes pretty obvious that that is exACTLY what’s going on.

Let’s take a look at the math curriculum. Honestly, after like, grade 8, when we’ve all learned how to multiply, calculate percentages, and calculate basic probabilities – very little of what we learn ACTUALLY matters in terms of most of our every day lives. I mean, there are bits of useful info here and there – slope and linear relationships COULD be useful if we were ever taught how to practically apply them (hello, choosing between cellphone plans or gym memberships, picking the cheapest cab company, calculating currency exchange rates, calculating the effects of our actions on the environment…!) and the basic stats and probability info taught in grade 12 Data Management COULD be useful IF WE WERE EVER TAUGHT HOW TO PRACTICALLY APPLY THEM – but for the most part, after Grade 8, math class becomes a vacuum where seemingly random, abstract formulas are pumped into young minds for the eventual goal of generating revenue. Ugh.

These kids sit in classrooms being all like “WHY are we DOING THIS,” and teachers respond with “you NEED math TO GET A JOB,” so kids just keep doing it, getting more and more pissed off, hating math more and more, and it makes me VERY SAD.

Perhaps we should start thinking about what our ‘NEEDS’ really are, in terms of becoming reflective and effective citizens who are able to participate in society. Sure, ‘participating’ involves getting a job, and making enough $$$ to have access to the basic necessities, but ‘participating’ also means having access to info that enables decision making.

So yes, we ARE living in a world which is increasingly reliant on technology – something which has a lot to do with math. But that’s only one side of the story. To me, what’s more important, is that we are constantly bombarded with numbers. Advertisements, newspapers, shopping, taxes – all of these things require being comfortable with numeracy. Advertisements such as ‘Toothpaste X reduces cavities by 200%,’ prey on the innumerateBasically the mathematical version of illiteracy, ‘innumeracy‘ is a term meant to convey a person’s inability to make sense of the numbers that run their lives (a conversation that I will DEFINITELY engage in at another time) -  and leave a whole whack of people buying products backed by meaningless statistics, really. I mean, what does 200% even MEAN?! So…once your cavities are 100% reduced – aka GONE – what does the remaining 100% of 200% do?! It makes NO sense! What the tagline most likely means, is  that toothpaste X reduces cavities by 200% compared to the leading brand, or something of that sort. If the leading brand only reduces say, 10% of cavities, then THIS brand only really reduces 20% of cavities (2.00 x 10%), which really isn’t THAT exciting! Just think of the implications in terms of not only advertising, but understanding the social stats presented to us in the news daily! It’s scary what we can be convinced of, simply because we don’t REALLY know how to think mathematically.

Shouldn’t the POINT of math education, then, be to give kids tools to enable them to critically evaluate the info they’re bomBARDED with on a daily basis?! To provide yet aNOTHER lens with which to view their world? Your brain is like a muscle. Weightlifting seems relatively pointless until you actually need to lift something really heavy – and then voila – thanks to all that training, you’re able to USE those muscles practically. Same thing here. Thinking in a mathematical way CAN seem really pointless – until YOU’RE the one going, ‘hey, you know what, I’m not going to be ripped off – I ain’t going to run out and change toothpaste brands THIS SECOND because I can see that these numbers MAKE NO SENSE.’

Accessibility and equality aren’t just about providing more people with access to more jobs. They’re about providing more people with access to the types of knowledge that will allow them to better navigate their world.

So now, when people ask me why I wrote my thesis, and why I think it’s more important for more girls to do math, I will no longer say, “well, jobs are becoming more technologically based and therefore more reliant on math and women should have access to those jobs so that they can be economically equal to men, blah blah blahhhhh.” Instead, I’m going to go with this:

Girls need, need, NEED to have the same access to mathematical knowledge as boys do, so that they have the same decision making tools as boys do. Girls need to have the same access to mathematical knowledge as boys do, so that they can critically reflect on their surroundings to the same extent that boys can. And Girls need to have the same access to mathematical knowledge as boys do, so that they too, can navigate their world, with the same dexterity boys have. Now THAT’s equality.

Theme 2: UK Idol

Okay, this isn’t really so much a THEME per se, as a tale of celebrity. Like, picture, but academia-styles. That’s right – I’m the paparazzi of the intellectual – represennnnnnt! Okay, so here goes.

So, I woke up at 4am yesterday (Friday) – too excited to sleep – I just KNEW it was going to be a great day. After Thursday – 17 lectures in 12 hours – and a night on the town, I was ready for the final day of the conference, followed, OF COURSE, by a much coveted trip to the infamous Black Friars Distillery, the working home of Plymouth Gin.  But let’s be honest, the main source of my excitement, was Valerie Walkerdine, DPR10′s final keynote speaker, whose work influenced and inspired most of my own!  Now, I had been plotting all morning just HOW I was going to get Walkerdine to notice me, HOW I was going to make an impression – and I didn’t have any ideas. But, as it turns out, fate/(my ridiculously apparent enthusiasm) took care of that for me!

So I spotted Walkerdine talking to Jerome, the director of the conference, and was plotting how to make my move. However, as soon as I finally got the courage to go approach them, she was off in another direction, getting ready to give her talk. So I sketchily said hi to Jerome – and he gave me this LOOK – and said ‘do you know Valerie Walkerdine?’ So I, being the 15-year-old-starstruck-schoolgirl that I am started BABBLING incoherently bout how OBVIOUSLY I was obSESSED with her and all of my WORK was premised on her work and blah blah – and obviously he already KNEW this – so again, he gave me the humoured look and said:

“Yes – okay – great. Would you like to introduce her?”

At this point I almost threw up. And had a heart attack. And passed out. All at the same time.  AND keep in mind this was FIVE MINUTES BEFORE HER PRESENTATION. And we proceeded as follows:

Me: What!!!? No I can’t. But yes. But no, I couldn’t. I’m about to have a heart attack.”

Jerome: Okay, have your heart attack, and then say yes.


Jerome: Oh well, no really this is lovely – just as I was thinking about the fact that the person who was SUPPOSED to introduce Valerie wasn’t showing up, there you were.

Me: OMG. Yes. I mean what? No. But yes. But what am I supposed to SAY? OMG WHAT DO I SAY!!!! (Shrieking noise)

Jerome: You know, I’m not a sexist person, I’m really not. But I mean, listening to you right now – I mean, how can you NOT say there is a difference between the way men and women act?

Me: SHRIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK OMGOMOGMOGOGOMGOMG Give me some points! What is she talking about today?! OMG WHAT IF I SAY SOMETHING WRONG!!! OMG I have a slide on Walkerdine. Maybe I should look at my slide and copy what it says. OMG What if it’s wrong?! What if I say something that’s not TRUE!?

Jerome: Okay, right – you have two minutes, I don’t know what she’s talking about. It’s called ‘From Hope to despair to back again’ – perhaps she’s talking about how we’ve gone from hope. To despair. And then back to hope.

Me: Wow thanks Jerome, that’s not vague at all, REALLY HELPFUL OMG I’M HAVING A HEART ATTAAAAAAAAAAACK.

Jerome: Why do you spell your first name with two capital SS’s?

Me: What? I like the aesthetics of it. WHAT?! WHO CARES! LET’S FOCUS JEROME! HELP ME!

Jerome: Lovely, okay, well let’s make our way into the lecture hall then.

Thankfully at this point, I was madly scribbling GOD knows what, down onto a piece of scrap paper – and Laura – my SAVIOUR – was calmly giving me suggestions which I somehow was translating into WORDS  in a VAGUELY coherent manner. I figured if I used REALLY big words I could maybe dupe everyone into thinking I was a genius and that even though on the SURFACE I may not be appearing to make sense, that actually I was making SO much sense that they just couldn’t GRASP how much sense I was making.

But then I remembered where I WAS and that that strategy was in NO way going to fly with this crowd. So then I started thinking that actually I COULDN’T use any of these big words because they were SO loaded that I’d end up saying all of these things I really didn’t intend on saying which would be FAR worse.

And then the next thing I knew we were in a lecture hall of 100 people and Jerome was at the podium saying:

“Well – here we are – we’ve all been waiting for this, and while we all know Valerie and are very impressed with her work, THE ONE WHO LOVES HER THE MOST AND HAS DEVOTED HER WHOLE LIFE TO HER IS VANESSA VAKHARIA”

Valerie looked at me and laughed. I of course almost DIED.

I have no idea what I ended up saying, I think I sounded coherent, Jerome gave me a thumbs up, Valerie got up and thanked me and then gave the MOST BRILLIANT TALK ON THE PLANET about geographical space, power, and how imagination may be our way to subvert power and to ‘imagine our way into a future,’ and I sat there freaking out the ENTIRE TIME.

After the presentation, I gave V.Walk one of my necklaces. AND she put it on RIGHT AWAY.  DEF made the Top-37-best-days-of-my-life list.


A sneak peak at the first piece of my fashion line ~ if you're interested in rocking one of these necklaces yourself, I have a few available for pre-sale ~ drop me a line and I'll hook you up!


Heather Mendick's work on math & popular culture HUGELY inspired my own - I used a great deal of her research when investigating the relationship between femininity, mathematics, and the media. Check out her stuff here: Ed note: My fave work of hers involves a study that investigates the role of the media in influencing what kids 'picture' when they think of 'mathematicians.' She asks each student in her study to draw an image of 'a mathematician,' and the results are HILARIOUS, albeit slightly frightening! Check it out:

Theme #3: Education BY…? And FOR…?
Inspired by Anna Carlile, Goldsmiths, University of London, UK

So here we are talking about ‘inclusive’ education and accessibility and all that – and here Anna is, talking about the exact opposite.

Interestingly, ideas surrounding race, class, and education are sort of commonplace. We’re always hearing things about minority groups and their educational performance – and of course, interestingly, all students of minority status are reported on as a group – which in and of itself, is SORT of strange when you really think about it – that’s a whole other rant for a whole other day! That’s why Anna focuses on processes of exclusion, rather than those who have been excluded- it’s less essentialising. The point of THIS rant is, well, have we ever thought about why it is that minority groups SEEM to consistently ‘get into trouble’ at school? Or why it is that same groups of students seem to consistently ‘underperform?’ And by that I mean, have we ever stopped to think about it – BEYOND simply accepting the superficial reasons given to us (most of which blame the students themselves for their ‘deficiencies,’ rather than perhaps those in charge of creating and perpetuating an education system that FAILS to meet the NEEDS of said students)?

Okay, so it seems to sort of make sense that immigrant students whose first language isn’t English have a tougher time doing well in school. Or that kids that come from families with less of a history of formal education find the education system a little more challenging. But – what are schools DOING to help? And actually, more importantly – are they, in fact, doing the exact opposite?

Through her insightful presentation, Anna investigated school exclusions (exclusions are when kids are officially kicked out of school) and how it is that schools, in fact, seem to PERPETUATE exclusion from schools for certain groups whom are ALREADY traditionally excluded. So, for example, let’s say a new family arrives from like, India, and English is not the fam’s first language. Already, the kids are facing a few obstacles. Now, a school abiding by ‘inclusive’ principles would offer this family translation services, make sure that say, in a math class, these kids would be provided with word problems that are culturally responsive (for example, think of all those sports-related word probs – if you were to start referencing hockey rules, which are familiar to most Canadians – these kids would PROBABLY be a tad lost – it’s not that they necessarily can’t do the MATH, but they wouldn’t understand the CONTEXT of the question, because, well, hockey’s not really a THING in India, you dig?), anyhow, inclusive schools SHOULD do this sort of thing. Okay, do you think that actually happens? I’ll give you one guess.

In most cases, the education system PROMOTES what in the UK they call expulsion: “permanent exclusion.” That means that instead of helping, they make matters worse. Straight up. As Anna points out, a few ways in which the educational system and culture of schooling sort of well, encourages the underperformance of minority groups are:

1. “The high statistical currency of the English language.” So basically, if English isn’t your first language, you’re all but totally screwed. Schools in the UK get more money for kids who speak English. And schools don’t exactly provide translation facilities for students OR their parents – who may not understand the school system, or those letters they send home to parents – if English ain’t their first language!

2. Age assessments. Okay, so this is pretty crazy. In the case of refugees, if their age isn’t known, they are given an ‘age assessment.’ Because there are a lot of issues with age assessments – language barriers being one of them – the age which a kid is assessed at can really affect the way their performance is perceived. For example, let’s say a kid is actually 18, but is assessed as being 13 years old, and put into a grade 9 classroom. Can you imagine?! Of course the kid might act out, or just see ‘different’ than his/her classmates, which might be PERCEIVED as poor performance – but really, the kid is all disoriented. And imagine the case the other way around!

3. ‘Minority’ Reporting. Skin-colour is still seen to affect people’s assumptions about the experience of racism, and the way in which students are ‘classified.’ Now, I mentioned this before, but the idea of ‘classifying’ or ‘categorizing’ someone, really is kind of crazy – when you think about it. right now I’m talking about race, but the same thing implies in terms of gender. For example, reporting math scores in a ‘girls vs boys’ manner is whack! There are WAY more intra-gender differences – differences that set girls apart from other girls – than there are BETWEEN girls and boys. The fact that we KEEP reporting stats this way seems suspect – are we intent on FINDING and MAINTAINING ‘differences’ between ‘groups?’ If we are, then WHO do these ‘differences’ benefit? Those in the ‘majority’? WHO is the majority? Think about it. Scary.

So instead of helping these kids get out of a ‘bad’ situation, they sort of subtly (re)produce a situation that the kids can’t get out of. In the end, this just leads to the same cultural-group-specific performance deficiencies which leads to the same cultural-group-specific stereotypes – both good AND bad! (Sidenote – sometimes just KNOWING that a stereotype exists causes an unconscious change in student behaviour – this is referred to as ‘stereotype threat.’ There are a few awesome articles for example, which argue that just making girls aware that they are supposed to suck at math, causes girls to underperform at mathematical tasks. Ergo, stereotypes are EVIL and make no sense – how can you draw conclusions on a whole GROUP of people based on ONE character trait (ie. race, socioeconomic status, etc) that they happen to have in common, when there are a zillion more traits that they DON’T have in common, which affect performance?!)

As ScienceDaily points out, immigrant children are the fastest growing sector in the Canadian child population, and account for nearly one in five Canadian school children. Therefore, the integration of immigrant children into schools should be an important issue for educators!  As Mr. Areepattamannil points out – “how these children adapt, and the educational pathways they take will clearly have profound implications for Canadian society.”

SO TRUE. So WHY are refusing to refine our education system in order to provide inclusive and accessible education to a huge portion of the people who will eventually make up a HUGE PORTION of the Canadian adult population? In WHOSE interest is it to keep these minority groups from succeeding? Questions questions questions.


And there you have it.  A wonderful week of DPR10, complete with inspiring ideas, ridiculous British expressions (come ON people – pudding is a TYPE of dessert, pants go OVER underpants, and sidewalks aren’t ALWAYS made of pavement, therefore they canNOT be synonyms!), and of course, authentic Plymouth gin, straight from the distillery. Life. Is. Grand.

DPR10 is about asking questions, sharing ideas, and exploring possibilities ~ as the old adage goes, ‘two minds are better than one!’ So join the conversation by adding us on Facebook, and following us on Twitter @DPRconference !



Education Needs to Change.


Presenting thoughts on math, gender, and the media, at the DPR10 Conference ~ wooo!


Late last year, my masters thesis, Peace, love, and pi: Imagining a world where Paris Hilton loves mathematics, was finally published. I figured, hey, after 768 days and 152 pages of my blood, sweat, and tears, that I absolutely could NOT let my ideas collect (metaphorical) dust on the shelf of the UBC (electronic) library. After presenting my work at The Fields Institute’s Mathematics Education Forum in January, I decided to take my work to the UK, where much of the work on math and gender (my specialty) is carried out. Specifically, I decided to attend the DPR10 Conference, where one of the keynote speakers was Valerie Walkerdine, whose work inspired my own.

What If?

Peace, love, and pi: Imagining a world where Paris Hilton loves mathematics is a piece which explores the possibilities that might emerge if mathematics was…well, COOL, rather than totally nerdy. Based on tons of theory which suggests that many girls aren’t motivated to excel at math because math is positioned as something that only geeks – or GUYS – do, what I did was interview a crew of the awesome girls I tutor. I explored their ideas of what it means to be cool, what it means to be a ‘mathematician,’ and also, what it means to construct one’s identity based on the media images which essentially surround us everywhere we turn.  It’s crazy – (but not surprising!) – to think that we are so heavily influenced by media images that these sources even affect what COURSES we take in school, and what career paths we choose to follow – but it’s true! Media influences the way we think, the way our friends think, the way our teachers and parents think – and if we all influence eachOTHER, and if we’re all exposed to the same media – we all end up with these similar ideas of what it means to be a girl, or to be a mathematician, and our options become really limited. We all end up in this creepy bubble in which the options given to us by the media are all we have to choose from. So if the media sort of tells us that being feminine is totally opposed to being a mathematician – we’re forced to choose one or the other. We don’t realize we’re doing it, but we sort of just ARE.

If all we see in movies, and TV shows, and advertisements, are images of total geeks doing math – or like, crazy dudes doing math (aka John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, or Will Hunting (yummy Matt Damon) in Good Will Hunting) – WHY would we ever want to aspire to that? Most girls I know don’t want to be supernerds, or like, total psychopaths. Just saying.

BUT – if Lady Gaga or Paris Hilton were ALL about math – would that change the way math is perceived and consumed by society? Think about it.


Imagining a world where Paris Hilton loves mathematics...thanks to my sick Photoshop skills :)

Discourse, Power & Resistance: Changing Education

DPR10 (Discourse, Power & Resistance: Changing Education ) is a conference aimed at widening participation – making education, and knowledge – more accessible to EVERYONE – not just the ‘elite’. For me, this means making education something that people OTHER than total keeners WANT to be a part of.

Moreover, DPR10 is a conference aimed at enabling us with the tools to question education, to ask – ‘what is the PURPOSE of education?’ While the question, at first, may seem obvious – I want you to stop and think about it. What IS the point of education? And for who? For those who ‘control’ educational institutions – maybe the point is just to make money. Think about those who run private schools as businesses – how much do they really care about the actual improvement of their students?  How about for students? Perhaps the point of education might be to gain knowledge – OR, to gain the knowledge needed to get a job. Or, to gain knowledge for the sake of learning cool things. Either way, I think the answer is more complex than a lot of us think. The important thing is to start ASKING these questions, rather than simply going through the system without questioning what’s going on.

Widening Participation – For Real.

Let’s take a sec to talk about the accessibility of education. Now, accessibility doesn’t just refer to making education like, physically accessible – of course it’s great to provide programs to people who normally don’t have access to them, for example, subsidizing, say, tutoring services for those who can’t afford them – or building elevators into schools so that those who have trouble walking can still get around – but ‘accessibility’ ALSO refers to  providing educational opportunities that ALL people can relate to and benefit from! What does that even mean? Well, to use an example from my area of interest – girls and math – check this out:

Accessibility and Teaching Style

I think it’s really hard for certain people to get INTO math – like, they just can’t dig it, and it’s not JUST because it’s ‘hard,’ or boring, or whatever, but in many cases there are a whole bunch of factors that make it inaccessible to certain groups of people. Like what, you ask? Well, for example – the way math is taught in many classrooms is super dry. Kids sit in rows, teachers yammer on in a monotone voice, and while SOME kids can learn this way, there are  a lot of kids that CAN’T – and it’s not because they’re not bright, but it’s because that sort of teaching method just doesn’t jive with their learning style. So while the opportunity to learn math is THERE, it’s not ACCESSIBLE to them.

Accessibility and Questions That MATTER

Here’s another example: Do you ever find yourself in the middle of a word problem wondering WHY it is exactly, that you’re supposed to care about the trigonometric relationship between like, a ladder and a house and the ninety degree angle it makes with the ground?! Or WHY it is that you’re spending valuable time calculating the projectile motion of a ROCKETSHIP – like, when are you ever going to do that in real life, and WHY do you even CARE?! Well, to be fair, some people do. I mean, rocketships are cool and all. But the point is, YOU don’t. And there are a lot of people out there, just like you, who don’t care either. If you can’t relate to a word problem – say you really have no idea what the deal is with rockets, I mean, you know they fly up into space, but that’s about it – then the question IS NOT ACCESSIBLE! It’s not something that a lot of people can relate to, so that greatly reduces its benefit to the intended audience. While a few kids may really get into the problem, a whole bunch of kids won’t – they’ll do the calculations, but won’t really understand what’s going on, because hey, their knowledge of space and rockets and such is limited to begin with.

Accessibility and Identity

And of course, as I mentioned before – the way math is positioned by the media – as a subject that only total nerds or total freaks are interested in – makes it TOTALLY INACCESSIBLE TO ANYONE NORMAL!

Accessibility: Everyday Solutions to Everyday Problems

So what would providing ACCESSIBLE opportunities in this situation look like? Well, it might mean providing a variety of word problems that different kids can relate to. So instead of the usual baseball/golfball/basketball/rocketship questions (you KNOW the ones I’m talking about!), we might also check out the parabolic relationships of rainbows, or quadratic business models like profit and revenue, –   relationships between things that are a tad more exciting and RELEVANT – like, the relationship between studying and grades – seriously, there IS a max point (vertex!) where the perfect amount of studying leads to the highest possible grade, and after that each additional hour barely makes a diff – like, who WOULDN’T want to figure that out?!

Also, fine, I’m all for rocketship questions – but making these problems accessible would mean providing some context and background info – spending a few minutes talking about rockets and space and sort of setting the scene so that ALL kids are on the same page before having to deal with the actual question.

Reconstructing word problems is just ONE way of making mathematics more accessible to more people. Another option – the one I’M most interested in – is changing the way math is portrayed by the media. Like, legitimately getting celebs that secretly love math to start talking about it, or at least getting celebs to stop acting like it’s COOL to be totally brain-dead (cough cough PARIS HILTON). I am CONSTANTLY shocked by the number of girls I see ‘acting’ dumb (This scene from Mean Girls TOTALLY proves my point!), just because these whack celebs make it seem uncool to be smart. Like THAT is dumb. Straight up. But it DOES go to show JUST how influential the media is! Scary.

Accessibility can take MANY forms – but unfortunately, it’s something that seems to be rarely considered when the curriculum – and teaching style – are concerned, leaving many students feeling totally alienated.

Reflect. Revamp. Revolutionize.

It’s important to reflect on what’s going on behind the scenes. Take my example above – baseball/golfball/basketball/rocketship – notice a  bit of something strange? All of those themes are traditionally associated with masculinity – NOW WAIT, beFORE you freak out – I’m NOT saying girls can’t like those things, or that boys can’t hate those things – I’m just saying, TRADITIONALLY they are sort of boyish. I’m only bringing this up, because again, in terms of accessibility, who do you think is going to be able to relate to those problems? That type of questioning favours boys. In terms of accessibility – when we look at why it is that more boys than girls are choosing to take math after grade 11 when they don’t need it any more, and WAY more boys than girls are choosing to continue with math in uni – these factors become important.

Newsflash: Girls get higher marks in math class at the highschool level – if you don’t believe me, read my thesis:)  – so the fact that WAY more guys choose to continue with math after highschool than girls do, isn’t related to ability – there’s something else going on, and that something else is accessibility.

Those who have the most ACCESS end up benefiting from educational opps the most. So, even though both boys and girls are sitting in that classroom, dealing with the exACT same word probs – the opportunity isn’t benefiting them both in the same way, because, in a sense, it favours the masculine. You dig?


Okay, that was quite the rant. In fact, as I now haven’t slept in 27 hours due to this epic journey from Toronto to Plymouth, the only type of accessibility that I’m into right now is ACCESS TO A BED.

However, despite my current state of delirium/near insanity, I’m actually super pumped to see what thoughts emerge from this conference – there are over 100 speakers, and some really interesting topics being discussed. I’m pretty stoked to see what goes down – LET THE GAMES BEGINNNNN!