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Episode 34: Redefining and Empowering Math Identities- A Preview of the Math Equity Conference

October 8-9, 2021

Desiree Harrison 0:32

Welcome to the Kids Math Talk Podcast!

Jamila Riser 0:33

Thank you so much, Desiree! It's great to be here.

My name is Jamila Riser and I'm the executive director of the Delaware Mathematics Coalition. I've been in the position with the coalition since 2007. And during that time, we've continued to evolve and grow as an organization. We're very committed to supporting increased opportunities for students to get the best possible mathematics experiences and to promoting equitable teaching and learning in Delaware classrooms.

We invest heavily in professional learning for teachers, coaches, and administrators, and it's a job I love! It doesn't feel like a job; it's a passion to me. And we have a very vibrant mathematics education community here in Delaware, so, it's a real privilege to be able to serve in this role.

Desiree Harrison 1:27

I found out about the Delaware Math Coalition and this upcoming Math Equity Conference on Twitter. And you were speaking to how you got involved with the Coalition and a little bit about the goals for the Coalition. But, can you tell us a little bit more specifically about the upcoming conference.

Headshot of Dr. Jamila Riser
Dr. Jamila Riser

Jamila Riser 1:48

Sure. Well, we've been in existence, as I've said, for some number of years, like, more than 14 years.

We became a non-profit a few years back. And, there was a point along our journey, as a group of leaders, that we decided if we could only have one annual conference, what would we focus on?

We do a lot of professional learning, as many of the people in the audience probably can relate to - much of that professional learning went to virtual learning in the last year.

But, we really do engage meaningfully with lots of teachers, coaches, and administrators in the state, typically in a face to face environment, although I think we learned a lot during the last year about expanding our reach, which will make it possible for us to do more than what we've done in the past.

But, we decided that if we could only do one annual conference, our focus needed to be on equity. And the rationale for that is because we're very invested in thinking about systems and structural level changes and how we can really make meaningful impact and sustainable shifts in Delaware classrooms.

And we feel like it's a complex issue. There are so many facets to making improvements, but we believe that all teachers can learn; all students can learn. We can all get better and we all are evolving.

So, we decided that in order to make the kind of impact, we would need to focus on equity as a framework through which we looked at all of the kinds of initiatives we were trying to support over time.

And so, I think this is actually the 5th annual Math Equity Conference that we're going to be hosting on October 8th (2021) and we're very fortunate because this year, we're partnering with our State Delaware Department of Education and it's a statewide in-service day. So, that affords us yet a bigger opportunity to reach more teachers in the state because all of the districts in the state will actually have an in-service day.

Doesn't limit us to just Delaware participants, obviously. Last year was the first year we did a virtual conference. And our keynote speakers for last year, one of them, was Amanda Jansen - who had just put out the Spring before, Rough Draft Math: Revising to Learn.

And, so, we invested a lot of energy that day thinking about re-humanizing the mathematics classroom. And our closing keynote was Imani Goffney, and she's from University of Maryland, and it was just the most amazing opportunity for us to think about these ideas together.

This year, our keynote is Dr. Michael Flynn, from Mount Holyoke College. And, that's how our math equity conference came to be. We do more than one annual conference, but, like I said, if we're just going to do one, we really need to make sure that equity is at the center focus of that work.

Desiree Harrison 4:40

In everything that you just said - it, like, oozes intentionality, and that idea of using the state in-service day is so brilliant because then everybody's working together - not just in one school or one district, but you have that larger mission.

And that - it seems like that definitely is a positive thing to help with these changes that so many in the math ed community are trying to make - there are all these shifts that are trying to be made, so why not work smarter, instead of everybody trying to develop their own.

Jamila Riser 5:14

Yeah, and to your point, the coalition leadership is comprised of stakeholders from Delaware School Districts, from the department of education leadership within the mathematics realm, business partners, and higher ed.

So we have really a wonderfully diverse group of stakeholders who serve as a part of our leadership core for guiding the mission and vision of the coalition. And we're very, very fortunate. Because, to your point, Desiree, you really need stakeholders- especially if we're trying to change things at a systems level- you really need stakeholders from these different groups to work together, moving in the same direction, right, and we couldn't be more grateful that our partners at the universities and at the department of education, really are invested in the same kinds of changes that we're working towards as an organization. So, it makes a difference and I think it helps us leverage greater momentum as a group of communities, right.

One area that we're really still working on, and that's why I'm so grateful to you for inviting to be a part of this podcast, is one of our core equity focus priorities - a more promising vision of who can do mathematics, and that core, particular core focus, is really about working with educators working with community members, and really changing our perceptions about who can do math, what it means to do math, who gets to be seen as good at math in the classroom - all of those factors play into our goal of really trying to inspire this love of learning mathematics.

Desiree Harrison 5:56

I can just imagine, like, how much energy is in that room, too, when you're planning something like this and you know that you're not alone. Or that you're not doing this in isolation.

So, just to learn a little bit more about the conference - so every year it has a different theme?

And this year's theme is Redefining mathematical identities and creating positive memorable experiences for all learners. And, on the podcast, we talk a lot about building positive math identities. And we also talk a lot about definitions and how definitions help us build shared understandings so that we can have the images in our mind and so when we're speaking to one another we're actually - we really are speaking the same language because we have the same background.

So, what does it mean to redefine a mathematical identity? (7:51)

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