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Teacher Professional Learning With/in Place

Mon, April 8, 12:20 to 1:50pm, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, Floor: Mezzanine Level, Maple East


Purpose: Place-conscious education is increasingly advocated as a pedagogical model to connect students, their communities, and environments. It is a form of pedagogy that invites teachers and students to view education as embedded in the life of communities rather abstracted from them (Sobel, 2005). However, place-conscious education also lives with tensions. Acultural and value-neutral views of mathematics make imagining place-conscious mathematics education more challenging than for other STEM related fields such as environmental and sustainability education. A pedagogy of place can focus on local issues at the expense of the global, leading to localism void of engagement and relation to international issues or intercultural sensitivity (Martin, Pirbhai Illich & Pete, 2017). And place-conscious educators can unintentionally perpetuate colonized practices and Eurocentric ways of knowing if they are unable to maintain a commitment to decolonizing or Indigenizing educational practices or to examine connections of living with others and with land (Greenwood, 2013; Styres, 2017; Tuck & Wang, 2012). Our paper explores these tensions for mathematics teachers learning culturally responsive and place/land-conscious mathematics education in multiple contexts. Our objective addresses the guiding question: What possibilities and tensions arise for mathematics teachers as they engage in professional learning focused on place/land-conscious pedagogies?

Perspectives: We draw on critical theories of place-conscious education (Greenwood, 2013), land education (Styres, 2017; Tuck & Wang, 2012), critical mathematics education (Gutstein, 2006; Skovsmose, 2016), theories of decolonizing and Indigenizing (Cote-Meek, 2014; Styres, 2017) and culturally responsive mathematics education to frame our research focused on teachers’ professional learning of, with, and in place.

Methods and Data Sources: Research contexts include teachers experiencing mathematics in university learning gardens, exploring Indigenous cultural marine practices to design mathematics curriculum, and studying culturally responsive mathematics pedagogies. Across these research sites, data were collected through interviews, surveys, and reflective writing from 25 teachers–in each case exploring the possibilities and tensions that arise as teacher participants engage in professional learning focused on place/land-conscious pedagogies in mathematics education.

Results and Significance: Results indicate that place/land-conscious professional learning provided opportunities for mathematics teachers to stretch their understandings of mathematics, their relationship with land, their relationship with others – particularly Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations, and their beginning understandings of colonizing, Indigenizing, and reconciliation. For example, teacher participants learning culturally responsive mathematics education stated the need for “recognizing tokenism and planning for deeper meaningful lessons,” while those exploring mathematics in a university learning garden recognized the violent consequences of imposing a strict rectangular grid on lands and waters having their own different contours, rhythms and life cycles. Although teachers shared points of growth during the projects, they also spoke of tensions including: 1) the seemingly impossible task of decolonizing mathematics education from inside a colonial structure; 2) the challenge of critiquing mainstream mathematics education (which currently works well for some students but fails or traumatizes others); and 3) the challenge of connecting questions of identity and civic particularity to curricular choices. Results emphasize difficulties of reconciling mathematical opportunities offered on the land with the highly structured, content-driven school mathematics curriculum.