This article is my last one for Netmath. I have immensely enjoyed writing about topics that have been, hopefully, inspiring and illuminating–especially about the importance of bringing the history of mathematics into our classroom and our lives in general. So, it seems fitting that this blog is about Netmath Missions. It’s what drew me to working for the company back in 2015–that unique devotion to making the history of mathematics come alive with students and teachers.
Learning and being inspired to learn occurs best when students can identify themselves and their own interests in the subject being taught. For mathematics, that includes a wide scope. In the past, this has meant traditional applications in science, technology, and business. As well, as the practical aspects in our daily lives. But, storytelling and sharing the stories of math’s history might be the most compelling ways for students to find identity and purpose in learning mathematics. Netmath started creating their Missions ten years ago, with the storyline of a fictitious city that had been robbed of all mathematical knowledge by the evil Mr. Haze.
The only way to put Mathlantis back together again is for students to travel back in time and help recover lost mathematical knowledge with the help of various mathematicians throughout history. The Missions, however, are locked when students first see them. In order to unlock their first Mission, students need to collect five gold stars (completing five full activities on the platform correctly). This gamified approach ensures that students show mastery of the core curriculum before they can embark on these enrichment explorations. The Missions have a storyline, so they must be completed sequentially. Generally speaking, the questions in the Missions are more challenging, but at no time are hints given or made available. We here at Netmath feel that this is a great time for students to develop mathematical resilience, once a core understanding of topics has already been achieved. Quite often, teachers will email us looking for hints and clues, but we remain steadfast in our approach of “being less helpful” (Dan Meyer)–which is the best form of help for thinking and struggling like a mathematician!
Each Mission begins with a little story about the mathematician followed by a fictitious story tied to the Mission’s narrative. The problems in each Mission vary, but generally speaking, are accessible to all students in Middle School. Once students complete a Mission, they are eager to start a new one. However, as mentioned earlier, unlocking each Mission requires 5 gold stars. As such, they have to correctly complete 5 more curriculum activities before being allowed to even start a new Mission. With ten Missions in total, students would have completed 50 activities to conclude their quest –and yes, there is a great finale where you get to save Mathalntis!
When Netmath first started introducing Missions to their platform, it was done for the pure joy of teaching students about math history. While that’s still the case, over the last ten years, our changing perspectives on equity issues have increased the importance of these Missions in shaping identity and cultural responsiveness in math education in a small but meaningful way.
Last week, the math community lost one of its pioneers, Katherine Johnson, one of the women celebrated in the outstanding movie, Hidden Figures.
I cannot think of a more powerful message to end my last piece about math history than the article written by Junaid Mubeen the year that Hidden Figures was nominated for Best Movie. The title says it all. When we don’t teach math history, we don’t share the depth of the stories of mathematics. When we fail to teach math history, we fail to share the depth of the mathematics story, starving it of the oxygen a richly human endeavour like mathematics needs.
There is much more math history for all of us to not just know, but want to know. Our souls demand it, and our students deserve it…
Unlock the missions and try it with your students!