Ubuntu

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Gail Anderson, Lansdale, PA  gailanderson@cpm.org

A few years ago, I read the book, Foreign to Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot and Cold Climate Cultures, by Sarah Lanier, in preparation for a trip to Kenya to visit some middle and elementary schools there (you can read about that in the November, 2017, newsletter (PDF) if you are interested). In the book, Lanier contrasts the relationship focus of communities in hot climates with the task and efficiency focus in cold climates. Being of eastern European descent, and having grown up in Buffalo, New York, I consider myself part of a colder climate. Of course, we valued our families and our neighbors and communities. But, I have to agree, we did not take our time with introductions and meals the way I saw people in Kenya take time with them.

Included in my summer reading this year was I am a Girl from Africa, by Zimbabwean Elizabeth Nyamayaro. Central to Nyamayaro’s autobiography is her experience of almost dying of starvation as a child, and being given food by a United Nations aid worker, who seemingly appeared out of nowhere. Nyamayaro’s dream from that day forward was to be a UN worker herself. Central to this desire to give back out of gratitude for what had been given her was her grandmother’s teaching of ubuntu. Nyamayaro defines ubuntu as “I am because we are, and because we are, you are.” It is the idea that we cannot really exist without community; we need each other because we are interrelated and interconnected. Today, Nyamayaro is doing amazing work with the HeforShe alliance working towards universal gender equity. It was she who began to promote the idea that gender violence is not a women’s issue, but rather a people’s issue, which calls for efforts by men as well as women to solve.

I decided to poll a few of my warmer-climate friends for their knowledge or thoughts on ubuntu. A dear friend of mine, who grew up in warmer Virginia and has ancestors in Nigeria, had not heard the word ubuntu, but when I read Nyamayaro’s definition to her, she nodded with knowing understanding. She was very familiar with this concept of existing because of community. This was something she had also been taught as a young girl.

My future son-in-law, a software developer who immigrated recently from Ghana, was familiar with the free software platform named Ubuntu, but did not know of the philosophy for which the software was named. He did, however, know of the concept “I am because we are” and he shared these two West African symbols with me:

which means “Help me and let me help you” and is a symbol of cooperation and interdependence, and

which means “chain link” and is a reminder to contribute to the community, that in unity is strength.

Following our conversation, I checked out the Ubuntu.com software site, and discovered their Ubuntu Community Code of Conduct which could easily be adapted for classroom use. Seeing a code of conduct such as this applied in the context of a technology sector business may help convince students (and parents) that the respect, clarity, and collaboration skills that CPM teachers teach are skills valuable to students in their future careers as well as in the classroom.

I emailed another friend, who lives in Beijing, and asked her if there is a similar Chinese concept. She told me they have similar sayings, such as sharing your happiness is much better than enjoying your happiness by yourself. “In fact, in Chinese culture, people have always been taught in this way. But it is not easy to do it well,” an acknowledgement that thinking about someone else is hard and does not come naturally. So, the struggle to work together well that we sometimes see in the classroom is universal!

One other friend I queried was a woman who immigrated from Iran to the US several years ago. She shared a well-known Persian poem with me, by the Iranian poet Sa’adi, from the 13th century. Here is the translation:

Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you’ve no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain!

Nyamayaro writes, “Ubuntu teaches us to think of ourselves as part of a whole, so if one person is uplifted, then others also rise.” This concept, not only of ubuntu in Zimbabwe, but embedded in cultures around the world – the idea that we are all interconnected and interdependent – says a lot about how we should teach and learn mathematics as well.

We are more human when we work as part of a group. And we are better teachers when we are part of a larger community. As part of this larger community, we learn from and support other teachers, curriculum developers, administrators and parents. We relate to our students better when we see our students as part of our community and realize that what we choose to do or not do can have a great impact on them.

It is equally true that our students learn more when they see themselves as part of that  community, and when they realize they have an important role in that community. What they do impacts not only themselves, but their peers and their teachers as well. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

How much more impactful would our classrooms be if we were serious about cultivating this idea of ubuntu in our classrooms? This may be one of our greatest challenges and one of our most sacred endeavors as educators.

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Algebra Tiles Blue Icon

Algebra Tiles Session

  • Used throughout CPM middle and high school courses
  • Concrete, geometric representation of algebraic concepts.
  • Two-hour virtual session,
  •  Learn how students build their conceptual understanding of simplifying algebraic expressions
  • Solving equations using these tools.  
  • Determining perimeter,
  • Combining like terms,
  • Comparing expressions,
  • Solving equations
  • Use an area model to multiply polynomials,
  • Factor quadratics and other polynomials, and
  • Complete the square.
  • Support the transition from a concrete (manipulative) representation to an abstract model of mathematics..

Foundations for Implementation

This professional learning is designed for teachers as they begin their implementation of CPM. This series contains multiple components and is grounded in multiple active experiences delivered over the first year. This learning experience will encourage teachers to adjust their instructional practices, expand their content knowledge, and challenge their beliefs about teaching and learning. Teachers and leaders will gain first-hand experience with CPM with emphasis on what they will be teaching. Throughout this series educators will experience the mathematics, consider instructional practices, and learn about the classroom environment necessary for a successful implementation of CPM curriculum resources.

Page 2 of the Professional Learning Progression (PDF) describes all of the components of this learning event and the additional support available. Teachers new to a course, but have previously attended Foundations for Implementation, can choose to engage in the course Content Modules in the Professional Learning Portal rather than attending the entire series of learning events again.

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Building on Instructional Practice Series

This series contains three different courses, taken in either order. The courses are designed for schools and teachers with a minimum of one year of experience teaching with CPM curriculum materials. Teachers will develop further understanding of strategies and tools for instructional practices and assessment.

Building on Equity

In this course, participants will learn how to include equitable practices in their  classroom and support traditionally underserved students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Participants will reflect on how their math identity and mindsets impact student learning. They will begin working on a plan for implementing Chapter 1 that creates an equitable classroom culture and curate strategies for supporting all students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Follow-up during the school year will support ongoing implementation of equitable classroom practices.

Building on Assessment

In this course, participants will apply assessment research to develop methods to provide feedback to students and to inform equitable assessment decisions. Participants will develop assessment action plans that will encourage continued collaboration within their learning community.

Building on Discourse

This professional learning builds upon the Foundations for Implementation Series by improving teachers’ ability to facilitate meaningful mathematical discourse. This learning experience will encourage participants to adjust their instructional practices in the areas of sharing math authority, developing independent learners, and the creation of equitable classroom environments. Participants will plan for student learning by using teaching practices such as posing purposeful questioning, supporting productive struggle, and facilitating meaningful mathematical discourse. In doing so, participants learn to support students collaboratively engaged with rigorous, team-worthy tasks with all elements of the Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices.