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Creating social change through mathematics

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AUGUST 08, 2018

My name is Celeste Gonzalez. I am a first-generation, low-income Latina. I was once an English Language Development student, and statistics have shown that I should not have made it this far in my education; however, my accomplishments are a result of resilience and support. One of my biggest forms of support this past year has been the Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program, or URAP, and my mentor, Mallika Scott. Through URAP, I have been able to explore a design-based approach to supporting first-year elementary school teachers in carrying forward their commitment to equity into classroom practice. I have gained skills such as uploading, downloading and transcribing video recordings using a software named InqScribe, while capturing verbatim what is being spoken. I have collected and documented data, entering it into a database for further evaluation and storage, while utilizing Excel. I have assisted in qualitative research: coding by analyzing transcriptions, emails and teacher reflections that demonstrate the changes elementary teachers experienced while participating in a learning community called Math Crew. Last semester, I was given the opportunity to present with Scott at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education Research Day on our preliminary findings, which are entitled, “Forming a Math Crew: A Design Approach to Supporting New Teachers to Navigate the Tensions and Contradictions of Equity-oriented Math Teaching.” I never imagined that I would ever be part of such work because of my socioeconomic status. Yet Scott has given me the opportunity to challenge and critically think about the role a teacher plays in a student’s life.

In recent years, the demand for good teachers has outpaced the supply of new teachers. Nevertheless, I have decided to double major in mathematics and Spanish while also completing a minor in math and science education. As a Spanish major, I have become aware of certain complexities: For example, white students are thought of highly when they first learn English, then Spanish, while students of color who first learn Spanish, then English, are discriminated against and made to assimilate into the American culture, removing any connections with their non-American cultures. As a math major, I have experienced the microaggressions that exist because I do not fit the mold of the stereotypical math major; yet, URAP has continued to encourage and inspire me to further pursue a degree in mathematics and Spanish at UC Berkeley. Additionally, this experience has opened the possibility of pursuing a master’s and doctorate in math curriculum while extending the field of ethnomathematics. This field has captured my attention because as a low-income, first-generation Latina pursuing mathematics, I have recognized that the struggles the Latinx community faces tend to relate to the structural and cultural manner in which mathematics is presented. I want to pursue this focus to create some accessibility for those students who do not embody the traits of the stereotypical math major.

URAP has allowed me to recognize that my own struggles in mathematics allow me to empathize with and provide the tools for students who are struggling in my future math classroom. I have learned to focus on students’ strengths, scaffold and understand the struggles first-year teachers face. Focusing on students’ deficits does not allow a student to build the confidence that will later enable an understanding of various concepts in mathematics.

Overall, URAP has provided me with the opportunity to give back to my Latinx community because it has enabled me to learn skills that are preparing me for graduate work. It has allowed me to become aware of the difficulties that come with being a teacher as well as tools to overcome the challenges. This has allowed me to support young students in the classroom by providing them with a customized curriculum that takes into account issues of race and cultural differences, which can enable learning. Additionally, I have been able to provide students with problem-solving skills that can enable them to pursue higher education, because no student should be refused an education because of socioeconomic status, gender, race, citizenship, language and/or social capital. I will continue serving my community through teaching and research by challenging school policy and advocating for young students who have the desire to pursue higher education. All of this would have not been possible if I were not part of URAP, because it has been one of my biggest supporters and is important to my aspirations to impact the educational system.

I highly encourage students who believe research is not connected to their fields of study to consider pursuing a research project. Although no two experiences are the same, I have been able to gain immense knowledge and support that I never imagined was attainable at UC Berkeley.

Celeste Gonzalez is a fifth-year student double majoring in mathematics and Spanish.

AUGUST 08, 2018