Report from the TMSJN Introductory Event

The first meeting of the Teaching Maths for Social Justice Network was held via Zoom on 15th June 2021 and was attended by 60 members of the network. The meeting began with a short presentation by Pete Wright on ‘TMSJN: Current opportunities and challenges’ (a short video and the PowerPoint presentation are available on the About page). This prompted a lively discussion in breakout groups which was followed by a ‘question and answer’ session with Pete.

The presentation highlighted constraints teachers face in addressing issues of equity and social justice in the maths classroom, including a scarcity of time and resources, demands of the scheme of work, and high levels of accountability leading to low-risk teaching. The TMSJ Network can help members to overcome these challenges through providing mutual support, sharing ideas and practice, and through developing teaching ideas and resources. Responses to the launch of the TMSJ Network highlight the enthusiasm amongst teachers of mathematics for tackling social justice issues (170 members joined within 2 months of its launch). The network offers teachers an opportunity to re-engage with the reasons why they came into teaching in the first place.

Three members of the network then gave a brief introduction to some TMSJ-related work they have been carrying out in schools. Graeme Austin outlined his school’s efforts to raise girls’ participation in maths through his involvement with the Advanced Mathematics Support Programme. Alba Fejzo presented some strategies, developed through her participation in the Visible Maths Pedagogy research project, that enabled students (particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds) to engage more successfully with progressive pedagogies. Tiago Carvalho (from the same mathematics department) outlined some of the participatory action research methods that were used in the project.

Sinead Vaughan then invited members of the network to discuss three questions in breakout groups and to feedback via a Padlet. Their responses are summarised below.

1) What is it about TMSJ that interests you and why?

  • A passion for teaching maths lessons that are relevant to the experiences of students from diverse backgrounds.
  • A belief that teaching maths can help develop informed and critical citizens able to contribute towards a fairer and more equal society.
  • A desire to build a more inclusive and accessible maths curriculum, in which all students can develop as confident learners.
  • A wish to engage with research literature, to better understand disadvantage in maths lessons, to identify and challenge the barriers students face in learning maths, and to critically reflect on practice.

2) What ideas do you have for TMSJ in schools?

  • Get students to analyse and question information presented to them, rather than accepting it at face value.
  • Embed more social justice issues (such as differing access to finance between different ethnic groups) into the teaching of Core Maths.
  • Draw on real-life scenarios (such as the Sally Clark case) that enhance students’ interest in maths.
  • Identify genuine cross-curricular links between maths and other subject areas, and run cross-curricular projects.
  • Help students appreciate that learning maths involves communication, discussion and solving real-life problems.

3) What would you like to get out of the TMSJ Network?

  • Embed social justice issues into my own teaching.
  • Increase the engagement of all students in maths.
  • Create teaching resources, share ideas and lesson plans.
  • Network with other teachers who share my passion for equity and social justice issues.
  • Get involved in collaborative research, inquiry and professional development.
  • Receive support in tackling controversial issues and implementing changes in my school.
  • Identify strategies for narrowing the attainment gap in maths.

The meeting finished with a poll of participants on which type of meeting they would like to see organised first in the Autumn Term. The most popular option was a Reading Group (to engage with research literature on TMSJ and discuss its relevance to practice), followed by a Writing Group (to facilitate the development and sharing of teaching resources focused on TMSJ).

Introduction to the TMSJN

The TMSJN (launched in April 2021) is a network for teachers of mathematics (in all school phases) committed to addressing issues of equity and social justice in the mathematics classroom.

The principal aim of the Teaching Maths for Social Justice Network is to share teaching ideas, resources, and practices with each other, and to provide mutual support and encouragement.

The meetings will be held every half term to begin with – some meetings will be held online and others face-to-face (hosted initially at UCL Institute of Education, London) – meetings will be either twilight sessions or on a Saturday morning.

Background/further information:

The Covid-19 pandemic has drawn attention to longstanding inequities and injustices within education, and more widely in society, as their consequences have become more visible. It has highlighted the need to critique conventional mathematics pedagogies and to explore more engaging and empowering teaching approaches that can help prepare mathematics learners to address the social, economic, political, and environmental challenges facing our society.

Teaching mathematics for social justice (TMSJ) aims to:

  • Employ collaborative, discursive, problem-solving, and problem-posing pedagogies, which promote mathematical sense-making and the engagement of all learners with mathematics.
  • Promote mathematical inquiries that resonate with learners’ real-life experiences and that help them develop greater understanding of their social/ cultural/ political/ economic situations.
  • Facilitate mathematical investigations that develop learners’ individual and collective agency, enabling them to take part in future social action for the public good.
  • Challenge common myths surrounding school mathematics, expose processes that lead to the marginalisation of some learners, and open up to scrutiny what it means to be successful.

Future activities of the TMSJN might include (other suggestions welcome):

  • Seminars/meetings/workshops with presentations/speakers/discussions.
  • Engaging with research literature on TMSJ and discussing its relevance to classroom practice.
  • Online discussion forum to share updates/news/ideas within the network between meetings.
  • Developing and disseminating teaching resources focused on TMSJ.
  • Fostering, supporting and disseminating collaborative research projects in schools.

The Network will initially be convened by Dr Pete Wright (UCL Institute of Education):
Email = pete.wright@ucl.ac.uk ; Twitter = @petewrightioe

Pete has written extensively about his collaborative research with teachers on issues of social justice in the mathematics classroom. You can find out more about his work (including a recent book published by ATM) by following these links: