Benjamin Banneker Association & NCTM

imagesNCTM San Francisco is fast approaching (April 13-16) and among the many things I am looking forward to is the opportunity to connect with the Benjamin Banneker Association (BBA) members at their 30th-year anniversary celebration. Casio is proud to help support this group that does so much work ensuring mathematics education equity and quality for students, in particular African-American students, through their work with leadership and professional development for teachers. For those of you unfamiliar with the BBA, they are a non-profit organization that strives to help provide the highest quality mathematics education so all students develop self-confidence, enthusiasm and perseverance in their own mathematical abilities. They have been supporting math education and teachers for 30 years, which is impressive, and we at Casio are excited to have the opportunity to support their endeavors a little more, as we believe strongly in quality math education and leveling the playing field for all students, something we strive to do by putting affordable technology into the hands of all students.

When I found out that I would get to be a part of the 30th-anniversary P.E.A.R.L. Reception and Celebration (Pursuing Excellence, Advocacy, and Revolutionary Leadership) I wanted to find out a bit more about who Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806) was and how this person represented what the BBA stood for – advocacy for math education. Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806) was a free black man, a self-educated mathematician, scientist and astronomer. He was well-known for the almanacs he published between 1792 – 1797, where he posted about medicines and medical treatment, astronomical calculations as well as opinion pieces, literature and tidal information used by fisherman. Here are several links that give more details about Benjamin Banneker and his accomplishments:

  1. http://www.biography.com/people/benjamin-banneker-9198038#synopsis
  2. http://www.americaslibrary.gov/jb/colonial/jb_colonial_banneker_1.html
  3. http://www.black-inventor.com/Benjamin-Banneker.asp

The accomplishments that stood out the most for me were the following:download

  • Banneker invented America’s first clock in the 1752. Wow! The story goes that he borrowed a pocket-watch from an acquaintance, took it apart to study it’s parts and how it worked, put it back together and returned it. Then he built a clock, based on what he had learned from the watch, made completely out of wood. The clock was precise and worked for more than 50 years. And it was made out of wood!
  • He correctly predicted the 1789 solar eclipse, and his correct prediction contradicted those of well-known mathematicians and astronomers.  This from a self-taught man.
  • He wrote to Thomas Jefferson, while Jefferson was Secretary of State, in support of civil rights for African-Americans and to dispel the beliefs about the intelligence of the black man and to push for viewing African-Americans as more than slaves. His letter chided Jefferson and others for thinking slaves and blacks as “less” , and included a copy of his almanac to prove his point. He also called the leaders hypocritical, when they were fighting oppression and enslavement by England when they themselves were enslaving African-Americans.  It was a powerful letter, and one that Jefferson was so moved by, he actually responded and also forwarded Banneker’s almanac to the Secretary of the French Academy of Sciences “because I considered it as a document to which your whole colour had a right for their justification against the doubts which have been entertained of them.”
  • Banneker was recommended by Jefferson to be part of the surveying team that laid out Washington, D. C., our Nations Capital. (which is depicted in the picture I put at the top of this post).

The BBA has chosen a person who valued education, so much so that he taught himself much of what he learned and then passed it along to others through his writings and almanacs.  He fought for equality and recognition for the African-American, standing up to powerful leaders like Thomas Jefferson at a time where he could have been at great risk. He helped build our nation – from the first clock to the laying out of our Nations Capital. A powerful leader, always learning, always sharing his knowledge to help others, and always striving to bring equality and recognition to African-Americans. The BBA is celebrating 30-years of continuing Benjamin Banneker’s vision. Congratulations! I know I speak for Casio when I say we are glad we can be a part of this and hope that our continued support will help BBA, and the teachers and students they touch, reach their goals going forward.

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Mathematics and History – Cross-curricular Learning

Obviously with it being February and Black-history month and Presidents Day, a lot of teachers are trying to find ways to bring some of that history into their classrooms, no matter the subject. The sad thing here is that we should be doing these types of cross-curricular learning regularly, not just when there is a designated day, or week, or month. In math and science in particular, there are so many historical events and people that have impacted the study of these subjects, therefore bringing in history, writing, and art really shouldn’t be that much of a stretch. And, vice versa – if you are a history teacher or an English teacher or an art teacher, there are mathematical and science connections that you can be using regularly.  Heck – the Common Core ELA standards actually have a huge focus on students reading in social studies, science and technical subject areas. Cross-curricular learning helps students make connections to not only where these subjects they are learning came from and who helped develop them, but how they work together and apply to life and future skills.

During my middle-school teaching years, it was easy to focus on cross-curricular learning because I was part of a cross-curricular team where we made a concerted effort to focus the learning on themes.  So maybe if we were learning about astronomy in science, then in math we were talking about planetary distances and gravitational forces, and in history they may have been learning the history of space travel and writing about it in English.  As I moved into high school and teaching, where there was more isolation of subjects, I still created opportunities for my students to connect history, science, art, and writing to mathematics. Some of my favorite resources were the AIMS Historical Connections in Mathematics books, which had summaries of various historical mathematicians, some sample problems related to their discoveries or work, and provided connections and timelines.  These were great starting points, often with hands-on activities, that helped support student projects or investigations.

What is probably of most importance, is to try to find historical figures or artistic applications of the math/science your students will be learning so that they see relevance to either a) what they are learning and where it came from; or b) why they are learning it and what they can use it for in the future. Learning is so much more interesting if there is a reason why or and understanding of how the math/science contributed to some point in time, some event, etc.

So – in light of the fact that it is February and Black-history month, I thought I would share a few influential mathematicians/scientists, with some links to what they did to maybe get you or your students thinking and connecting. Let’s write.  Let’s research.  Let’s connect math/science to other subjects so that learning is not an isolated topic but an interconnected experience.

  1. Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806) – mathematician, astronomer, writer of Almanacs
  2. David Harold Blackwell (1919-2010) – mathematician, first African-American inducted into the National Academy of Sciences
  3. Kelly Miller (1863-1939) – mathematician, first African-american to attend Johns Hopkins University
  4. J. Ernest Wilkins, Jr. (1923-2011) – nuclear scientist, chemical engineer, mathematician; contributed to The Manhattan Project; the youngest ever student to enter The University of Chicago (at age 13)
  5. Elbert Frank Cox (1895-1969) – first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics
  6. Marjorie Lee Browne (1914-1979) – noted mathematics educator
  7. Charles L. Reason (1818-1893) – mathematician, linguist, educator; first African-American professor to teach at a predominantly white U.S. college
  8. Katherine Johnson (1918 – ) – physicist, space scientist, mathematician; early application of digital electronics as part of NASA space program

This is just my first posting trying to connect mathematics/science to other subject areas. Each month I will share some historical mathematics/scientists to help provide some resources for those of you who wish to incorporate cross-curricular learning.