Doing the Unpossible: Teaching and Learning in Newfoundland

By July 20, 2016Equity

Yesterday I returned from a serendipitous trip to St. John’s in Newfoundland. An organization called Unpossible invited me to share my thinking about Math Circles as they work to set up their own local program. (I also saw a bunch of whales and puffins. It was amazing.)

Learning in cultural exchange is inevitable. As I talked to Unpossible staff about our practices in MC^2, we worked to think about how to translate what we do in Chicago into their context in St. John’s. The attempt to transfer ideas forces you to consider closely what’s essential in your work. The act of making your values clear to others helps you clarify them to yourself.

Unpossible’s own values were eye opening to me. From their website: “The RPM Challenge is a challenge to anyone—novice or professional—to record an album in the month of February. It’s not a contest. It’s for fun,” and “The Stand Up Challenge is a call to everyone to create, rehearse, and perform a five minute set of original stand-up comedy in the month of June.”

Ostensibly my trip was to teach them to set up their own math circles—we talked about student agency, about interesting problems with ‘Low floors and High Ceilings’, we talked about addressing students’ identity as a person who does mathematics. But I learned at least as much from them about their ethos of inviting everyone to participate and create.

The all-inclusiveness of Unpossible’s value system is something I can’t stop thinking about.

I used to say that we looked to serve all kids in Chicago interested in math, but now I’ll say that we look to serve all kids in Chicago, period. In St. John’s, if you have a dream of recording your own album or doing stand up, Unpossible is making it real. In Chicago, If you can imagine doing interesting mathematics, we’ll make it a reality.