This blog is based on survey and focus group findings from the Adapted Measure of Math Engagement project, which is led by the Adapted Measure of Math Engagement Research Group. This group includes six students (Aubrey Caldwell, Antonio Chavira, Brianna Espy, Ryan Ombongi, Serrah Ssemukutu, and Diamond Tony-Uduhirinwa), five teachers (Nate Earley, Karina Mazurek, Kathleen Morgan, Karla Rokke, and Ashly Tritch), and five researchers (Marisa Crowder, Samantha E. Holquist, Diane (Ta-Yang) Hsieh, Claire Kelley, and Mark Vincent B. Yu). Alyssa Scott also extensively contributes to this work.

Many people have strong feelings about math. At times, math can be full of curiosity, wonders, and possibilities. Other times, however, it can be full of frustrations, stereotypes, and judgments. Often, the difference lies in relationships: People in a student’s web of support, including teachers, mentors, families, community members, peers, and friends, all play a role in shaping students’ math engagement.  

In an ongoing study in collaboration with Bloomington Public Schools, Child Trends, and McREL International, we heard from Black and Latino1 students about how their Developmental Relationships with their math teachers have fostered their math engagement. Developmental Relationships are close connections through which young people discover who they are, gain abilities to shape their own lives, and learn how to interact with and contribute to the world around them. Below, we highlight our findings2 by going through the five main elements of Developmental Relationships: Express Care, Provide Support, Challenge Growth, Share Power, and Expand Possibilities. 

  • Developmental relationships start with expressing care. 
    When math educators Express Care—a fundamental element of Developmental Relationships—students are more likely to be engaged. Expressing care involves taking the time to connect with students on a personal leveSlide1-1l, showing students that they matter, and affirming them. For example, among the students surveyed who agreed that their math teacher showed them that they matter, 74% looked forward to math class, compared to 21% among students who disagreed.

    “She [math teacher], like, cares to get to know you not just on a school level but also, like, she cares to get to know you as a person, like, outside of school.” - London3, a Black female student at Helen Rodríguez Trías High School

  • Providing support while challenging growth helps foster math engagement.
    Another fundamental element of Developmental Relationships is to Provide Support.Slide4-1 For some students, this might include showing examples of how to complete work, answering students’ questions, providing clear instructions on how to complete work, and using a variety of activities to help students learn. When students feel like their math teacher is not providing the support they need, they are less likely to engage.

    “I feel like I don't want to ask my math teacher too much questions because like, by the second question I ask, she, like, gets, like, irritated.” - Emily, a Somali female student at Katherine Johnson Middle School

Beyond providing support, it is also important to Challenge each student’s Growth. For example, teachers can encourage students to embrace a growth mindset, so that they are thriving in their respective zone of proximal development. Among students who agreed that their math teacher encouraged them to do their best, 86% checked their work to make sure it was right, compared to 14% among students who disagreed.

  • Sharing power uplifts students’ unique strengths and assets.
    Sharing power, another element in the Developmental RelationshipsSlide2-1 framework, is particularly important for fostering math engagement from an equity perspective. Black and Latino communities of low-income backgrounds are disproportionately marginalized and have lower representations in math (and broader STEM) fields. To counter such inequities, it is particularly critical for math teachers to Share Power—or treat students with respect and give them a say. Black and Latino students in our study who agreed that their math teacher let them decide how they wanted to learn were more likely to stay focused when new math skills were being taught (86%), compared to their peers who disagreed (65%). 

  • Expanding possibilities connects math to students’ lives.
    Finally, advancing equitable math learning through Developmental RelationshipsSlide3-1 includes Expanding students’ Possibilities—inspiring them and broadening their world. For example, math teachers can intentionally highlight math role models who match students’ backgrounds and identities. Another promising strategy is when math teachers connect the math that is being taught in the classroom with students’ lived experiences and futures. The Black and Latino students in our study who agreed that learning math matters to their everyday life were twice as likely to see themselves as someone who can be successful at math (88%), compared to their peers who disagreed (44%).

For more details about these takeaways and actionable strategies to implement in classrooms, check out our project resources for teachers:

 


This project is funded by the National Science Foundation, grant #2200437. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in these materials are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

 1We use “Latino” as an umbrella term for students who identify as Hispanic, Latino/a, or of Spanish origin. We acknowledge that the term “Latino” might not resonate with every student categorized in this group, including students who reported a non-binary gender identity.

2Findings in this post drew from a student self-report survey (n = 506 Black students, 605 Latino students) collected in Spring of 2024, and student focus groups data (n = 50 Black and Latino students) collected in Spring of 2023.

3All student and school names are pseudonyms. 

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