Slavery Math Questions? Cross-Curricular? No.

5 years ago

Cross-curricular learning is powerful stuff.  We get the opportunity to take information from one area and apply it to another area.  It allows us to build connections and gain a deeper understanding of the concepts while allowing us to practice developing skill sets in mulitple disciplines.

Rephrasing a basic math question by inserting social studies terms is not the type of cross-curricular teaching that is going to prompt deep ah-ha's.  In the 3rd grade classroom of a Georgia school, students, learning about slavery in Social Studies, were given math questions such as, "If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in 1 week?" and, "Each tree had 56 oranges. If 8 slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?"

Math Chalkboard via Shutterstock

On a visceral level these questions make me feel fairly nauseous because they take something horrible that happened and make it seem almost banal.

On a cognitive level, these questions are upsetting because they do nothing to actually deepen the students' understanding of this time in history, the deeper social and economic issues, nor the need to think in terms of what our country represents and the efforts people have taken to make changes.  They have no context and with an issue such as slavery, it is irresponsible to present simplistic questions outside of that context.

I think it is quite possible that the questions were done without intentional malice, but they were myopic and simple-minded in their approach.  As well, they speak of a lack of awareness about the complexity of civil rights issues in our country.

A better question might have asked students to determine the profits made from fields of tobacco or to calculate the distances that Harriet Tubman traveled to help people escape from freedom.  There are SO many better questions that would help students understand the gravity of slavery AND help students recognize the heroic efforts of those who helped to end it.

Ideas for better questions than those used in that 3rd grade classroom?

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