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Mathematics at the Margins

Elizabeth Warren and Jodie Miller
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
Springer Briefs in Education
[Reviewed by
Charles Ashbacher
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In this book, the term “margins” refers to students of ethnicity native to the regions of Australia, New Zealand and Canada. As is also the case in the United States, the schools serving such suffer from poor levels of student achievement and involvement as well as having more poorly qualified teachers and less financial backing. This book provides the contextual background of those problems as well as a description of a partial solution.

That solution is called RoleM (Representations, oral language, and engagement in Mathematics.) Most of the study was done in Australia, the three categories of schools used are urban, remote and very remote.

The attempt to bring the aborigine children up to the level they should be at for their age begins with basic numeracy and language skills. Some of the students do not speak the language of the instruction, which of course makes their mathematics education problematic.

Descriptions of tactics used to educate both the teachers and students are given as well as tables of data regarding the improved performance of students being taught via RoleM. I am generally skeptical of claimed improvements in tactics used for math instruction; that skepticism was active here. While there were improvements in the performances of students, it is very likely that some of them are due to the Hawthorne Effect. This is the increase in performance commonly seen in businesses due to the fact that people are simply paying attention to them. If you try new things and spend more resources on education, the student performance is quite naturally expected to go up.

While the book is interesting in the discussions of how aborigine people are being marginalized and the RoleM solution has some merit and can be transferred to other contexts, the effectiveness of the solution is questionable. Yet if you teach marginalized students anywhere, there will be some points of valid instruction that you can extract and use. 

Charles Ashbacher splits his time between consulting with industry in projects involving math and computers, and teaching college classes. In his spare time, he reads about these things and helps his daughter in her lawn care business.

See the table of contents in the publisher's webpage.