Middle school math project does double duty: Teaches students about statistics and cultural diversity

iStock_000008669788XSmallTo make math more relevant to middle school students and to nurture their awareness of diversity, one rural Indiana school adapted the 100 People Village concept to double as a statistics learning activity and a multicultural education activity.

The 100 People Village project educates people about the demographics and statistics of the world’s population by imagining that the global population has only 100 people. This simple number makes it easier to appreciate the ethnic and religious composition of the global population and to grasp statistics on poverty, consumption of resources, education, etc.

A recent article in Multicultural Education describes how that concept was used at an Indiana school to help 6th-8th graders work with statistics and better understand their school’s ethnic composition. For the “Our School as 100 Students” project, students researched the composition of the school population, developed a school survey that explored feelings and opinions on school diversity and produced a video on what they discovered.

“This holistic approach of discussion, cultural awareness, creative arts, and mathematics can be a model of meta-learning procedures,” the researchers write. “The activity, grounded in mathematics and statistics with an emphasis on the video production, may integrate both the rational and extrarational processing of the student.”

The racial and ethnic background of the school enrollment, based on 2007-08 data, was 73% Caucasian, 16% Hispanic, 6% African American, 3% multiracial/other and 1% Asian. 86% spoke English as a primary language and 14% spoke another language but English as a primary language, mostly Spanish.

After surveying their peers in the school, students collected the results and delved into their meaning. Survey questions included the following:

  • What does the word diversity mean to you?
  • Do you think diversity is a good or bad thing to have in school? In the communi ty? In the U.S.?
  • Do you see yourself as different from others? If so, how?
  • What kind of difficulties do you think people from different backgrounds than your own face in their lives?
  • How do you deal with situations when someone has a different point of view or differs from you in some way yet you still have to interact with them?

A total of 81 6th-8th graders, working in groups, participated in the project. Each group could choose its own approach to present results and the video clips were edited into one video. Researchers assessed student attitudes before and after the video effort with a pre-test and post-test. Students also took part in a reflexive writing activity and classroom discussion as part of their assessment.

“This school in particular had experienced racial issues during the school year, and as such, students may have been more sensitized to racial/ethnic issues and concerns,” the researchers write.

Researchers found several differences in student views and feelings based on the pre- and post-project assessments. White students were almost 2 times more likely to negotiate or compromise with someone from a different background, they report, whereas non-white students were more likely to disengage or withdraw from the situation. Post-activity, responses from both white and non-white students (72%, 65%, respectively) indicated a greater willingness to negotiate, according to the study.

“Student Views of Diversity A Multicultural Mathematics Activity”by Jody Riskowski and Gayla Olbricht, Multicultural Education, Winter 2010, pps. 2-12.

2 Responses to “Middle school math project does double duty: Teaches students about statistics and cultural diversity”

  1. E Hynson

    Is there any way I could be put into contact with these teachers to get more info? I would love to collaborate with my ELA teacher and implement something like this.

    • Diana

      Hi Elizabeth,

      Glad you found this article of interest. Here is the email address for one of the authors, Gayla Olbricht, at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. Good luck with your project!

      Diana Sterne


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