List of FAQ

Activity 1 CME Module FAQ

How should prospective teachers choose community locations to visit?

It is not essential that prospective teachers visit locations that were mentioned by children and/or are familiar to children. While we have found visits to familiar places to be fruitful, we also want to push prospective teachers to go beyond making connections to children’s interests (i.e., writing a lesson about buying ice cream because prospective teachers know that students like going to the local creamery) and to instead start to notice how different people in the community use/do mathematics as part of their daily activity.

In addition, schools may serve more than one specialized demographic group or community (e.g. military; new immigrant community). The community walk can be a vehicle to better understand a specific cultural/demographic community served by the school. The point is that prospective teachers should not feel limited to a location(s) visited by a majority of students (e.g. the mall; movie theatre). Prospective teachers can also focus on a specific community and engage in discussions with families/community members in those specific communities.

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How can I support prospective teachers in gaining access to community locations?

We have found that connections with families and community members, and school-community liaisons have played an important role in helping prospective teachers to gain access to community sites. When community insiders are able to accompany prospective teachers on the community visits, they are able to provide prospective teachers not only with entrance to community settings, but to a deeper understanding of the practices and activities. In addition, in instances when successive groups of prospective teachers conduct their field experience in the same school(s)/communities, we have found that we develop relationships with community businesses and centers, and that they come to anticipate (and welcome) the arrival of our prospective teachers. When prospective teachers are visiting a community site for the first time, we have sent them with letters from the course instructor that explain the purpose of the community visits, and the broader goals and context of the Community Mathematics Exploration Module.

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How important is walking during the community walk?

We have found that when prospective teachers are able to walk during the community visits, the slowed pace of walking (as compared to driving) helps them to attend to aspects of the community that they had not previously noticed. When possible, we have organized prospective teachers to walk down streets, to walk to community hubs, to walk from one location to the next, and to reflect on what they notice during these visits.

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Does visiting the school count as a community site?

In some instances, prospective teachers have been reluctant to conduct community visits and have instead opted to conduct walks around the school grounds, talking with students, staff and visitors about activities and identifying mathematical practices. They sometimes justify this decision with pragmatic reasons such as the fact that time is limited and that traveling beyond the school grounds is not a viable option, or that school walks, as compared to community walks, are an activity that they could easily conduct with their own students (i.e., no transportation required). While we see learning about the school community as valuable and supportive of prospective teachers’ practice, we do not view school explorations as a substitute for experiences in the community outside of the school. In the instances when prospective teachers have expressed a reluctance to leave the school grounds, we have tried to scaffold the community walk in numerous ways (e.g., pairing the prospective teachers with a peer who is an insider to the community; asking parents or school-community liaisons to accompany the prospective teachers, etc). 

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Why do prospective teachers need to talk to families and community members before and during walks?

We have also found that it is essential for prospective teachers to interact with families and community members during the visits. This requires some preparation, as prospective teachers need to think about the kinds of questions that they may want to ask people that they meet during their visits, as well as how they will talk about/explain the purpose of their visits to business owners, patrons, families and others. We have found that interactions with community members are critical to prospective teachers’ understandings about the community, and that they help to challenges prospective teachers assumptions.  

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Should I provide examples of places to visits and examples of lesson plans before or after the community walks?

With respect to the choice of location and the development of a lesson, one tension we have experienced was how much to support prospective teachers and provide ideas, versus letting them come up with the ideas, and when to provide those ideas (e.g., before or after visits, before or after they brainstorm lesson plan ideas).

While sharing ideas for possible visits/lessons at the beginning of the activity provides prospective teachers with examples of what they might explore, we have found that this sometimes lead to prospective teachers who start to plan their lessons BEFORE going into the community and observing, interacting and talking with community members. As a result, some of us have decided to wait to share examples until AFTER the initial community visit. Others share examples of places in the community that other prospective teachers have visited in the past, with photos from those locations, just to give prospective teachers an idea of the range of locations that might be possible.

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How much time do prospective teachers need to share and reflect on their community walk experiences?

While whole group sharing sessions take time, we have found them to be quite useful. For example, several of us have found that asking prospective teachers to make a short power-point that showcases what they have learned from their community visits helps broaden all prospective teachers understandings and awareness about the community. Others have noticed that asking prospective teachers to select photos to share deepened the whole group conversations, as prospective teachers thought carefully about what they wanted to share with their classmates, and about the specifics of the community location that they wanted to highlight.

Another option is using small groups for discussion and debriefing. One option is to form groups of prospective teachers who are participated in different community walks – so that they could hear about other places and experiences. We have found that these discussions go quite well, and that they provide a space for prospective teachers to share with others outside their group about their experiences, emotions and learning during the community walk. For example, prospective teachers have shared about how they felt uncomfortable as a “minority” (both language and cultural) in specific community locations – and how they were amazed by the different practices they observed that involved mathematics. prospective teachers have also commented on how beneficial it was to have fellow prospective teachers who were familiar with the community in their group (e.g., prospective teachers who were bilingual and could interact with community members in Spanish or English).

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How can I challenge stereotypes or deficit-based ideas about communities?

The Community Math Exploration gives prospective teachers an opportunity to explore mathematical activities and practices of the communities in which their students and families live. This can be both exciting and disorienting for prospective teachers. We have found different opportunities during the Community Math Exploration activities to challenge stereotypes or deficit-based ideas about communities, families, and students. Depending on your implementation, opportunities to challenge deficit-based views arise during in-class debriefing activities as well as giving feedback on written submissions such as group commentaries or individual reflections. For example, in an in-class activity when prospective teachers discuss the data (e.g. pictures, images, fieldnotes) taken of their visit to generate task/lesson ideas, prospective teachers may voice stereotypes about the community (e.g. trash in yards; safety issues) or “surprises” that suggest deficit views such as “I was surprised at how clean the business was”; “there were so many of our families at the library, this surprised me given the test scores; or “I was surprised that the owner/family member could speak English so well.” The mathematics teacher educator can listen and strategically interject ideas that focus on the strengths of the community embedded in the such comments as well as ask for more elaboration on such comments to help prospective teacher be more aware of deficit views being expressed. If the prospective teachers have an opportunity to share their interpretations as well as ideas for math tasks to the whole class, other students and mathematics teacher educators can challenge deficit views if they arise. In addition, the mathematics teacher educators can provide explicit feedback on group commentaries and individual reflections by asking specific questions “why does this surprise you?” or “What stereotype does your comment connect to or challenge about this community?

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Should I involve families or community members in community walk debriefs?

Related to the point above, one way to support prospective teachers in thoughtful reflection on their experiences in the community is to invite families and community members to participate not only in the community walks, but in the debrief discussions. Prospective teachers are often unclear about how to interpret or make sense of the activities that they observe (or don’t observe) during their community visits, and opportunities to dialogue with community insiders can enhance their understandings.

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