My earliest memory of math is very vague but what I do remember is I was in elementary school, and we would use these dots. They were yellow and red, each side was a different color and we would use that to add and subtract.
-E__, Class of ’24
I know you picked this problem because it seems to be the easiest out of a bunch, but just remember, despite it looking easy, there are still many mistakes you can make. So don’t get overconfident.
-J__, Class of ’24
Everyone uses math in their life and I think it is overlooked and underrated when considering how much we use it in our daily lives. Math will always be around us no matter where we are – not literally solving an equation, but involving what is around you.
–I__, Class of ’24
Graphs are like us
With different lengths and widths
Overall, you can see the difference
When you look from within
–J__, Class of ’23
Those are excerpts from my students’ writing in our book Mathematical Voices, Volume 3.
This is the third consecutive year that I’ve been able to compile my students’ math writing, bound it, and turn it into a physical book. Volume 1 happened in 2020 — the year everything changed. Volume 2 dropped last year — the year of remote learning.
When compared to the previous two, I’m glad to reveal that Volume 3 arrives on a much brighter note. The pandemic still rages on, but there is much to be thankful for. Schools reopened, in-person learning resumed, and so much of what I’ve longed for during the last two school years returned. With my faith in teaching and learning restored, my career experienced a rebirth. There were challenges, but I savored every mask-covered, hand-sanitized minute of being back.
Given the joy I rediscovered by returning to the classroom, it may come as no surprise that I deeply enjoyed my students’ writing experiences this year. Given the historic circumstances that kept us apart, there was so much to catch up on, create, and look forward to. In this way, writing helped us to reclaim both learning and mathematics. The celebratory spirit and honorary tone the book took on opened the door for even more student voice: Despite fewer students on my roster this year, Volume 3 contains more writing than either of the previous two.
My enthusiasm helped steer Volume 3, but it was also powered by the understated value of writing during moments of transition and growth. With the return of in-person learning, I believe that writing not only buttressed my students’ development as learners of mathematics, but also helped us all use mathematics to bear witness to our changing world. So much of who we are is different now. Writing helped us make sense of our evolution not by declaring blind allegiance to content or curriculum, but by instead doubling down on the commitment we have to ourselves and each other. Although Zoom was gone and we were in front of each other once more, it was writing that enabled us to actually see each other again. The details of our lives and the mathematics that runs though our hearts and minds were made discernible to each other through writing. Thus, Volume 3 is a testament to the ongoing humanization of teaching and learning in mathematics, especially during a transitional year such as this one.
An important aspect of Volume 3 that emerged from our return to the classroom is the student editors (I blocked out their names from the above image). This is a major development since, from its inception, Mathematical Voices has sought to magnify students’ mathematical perspectives and the gifts they hold. Each edition strives to upend conventional expectations for the role students need to play in math class while elevating their status from learner and consumer to author and producer. Though I was thrilled to have achieved this and for it to be so well received by readers in the first two volumes, being the sole person compiling and editing my students’ writing didn’t feel natural. After the first two editions, my exclusive rights as editor in a work that challenges teacher-student hierarchies did not sit well with me.
In addition to having their mathematical voices published, I knew that my students should also help determine how they were published. Besides, it is their writing. Thus, for Volume 3 I stepped aside and made space for my students to take greater ownership over their intellectual property and mathematical creativity. Instead of merely filling up the pages of our book, their names are now proudly displayed on its cover, as editors. As their teacher, it’s a privilege to share the role of editor with them and I couldn’t be prouder of what we produced together. To accompany mine, each of my co-editors wrote a Preface to share their own editorial journey.
In addition to my co-editors, the cover this year also has special meaning: It was 100% designed by one of my students. As a stunning creation from one of our school’s most prominent artists, the cover is her artistic vision of her classmates’ writing. Somehow, she found a way to do justice to what readers will discover inside. Looking back at the first two volumes, I realize now that only a student could achieve this. Only a student could capture visually what my students have accomplished in written form. She even inspired me to publish the book in color this year. The accent color inside was chosen as a direct result of the teal/green that she used for the cover.
As my students’ reflections, analyses, and creativity harmoniously collide for a third time, they converge in what is the most complete and student-facing version of Mathematical Voices yet. Inside are their Mathographies, Metacognitive Journals, Poetry, and Math Raps, each special in its own right. Taken collectively, they fill the pages with a brightness that could only be expressed in a year like the one we’ve had. The finishing touch was added by my colleague and good friend Adhim DeVeaux, who wrote the Foreword. Given his journey and our ongoing brotherhood, he was the first and last person that I thought of to open the book on behalf of my students. He did a marvelous job.
Because we finished in-person this year (unlike the last two), this was the first time I was able to actually hand students their copy of our book while they were still on my roster. The exchange happened in class on the last day of instruction. It was an unforgettable feeling to kneel next to each one of my students, thank them for their efforts this year, and hand them a book that they helped co-author. It’s a transaction that I’ve been looking forward to for three years. I took advantage of the opportunity by writing a personalized dedication to each student.
Despite all that’s happened these last few years, I’m proud that Mathematical Voices has lived on and evolved the way it has. It’s no doubt been a beacon of hope and inspiration that has helped carry my battered pedagogy to the finish line each June. I know it’s cliché, but the books have also taught me to dream big. They’ve helped me see that despite restrictive state exams, being a cog in the wheel of a bureaucracy, and a global health crisis, beautiful things are indeed possible. Mathematical Voices removes self-perceived limitations and grants my teacher imagination the permission to reach further. I’m so thankful for it.