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Real World Math: Engaging Students through Global Issues

By Murray Bourne, 17 Jun 2009

Real World Math: Engaging Students through Global Issues by "Facing the Future" is an interesting approach to curriculum development.

Facing the Future addresses issues such as farming, water, pollution, poverty and energy.

According to their project overview:

Our positive, solutions-based programming is designed by and for teachers, and brings critical thinking about global issues to students in every walk of life. We work within the education system to help teachers help students achieve academic success, while preparing them to create and maintain positive, healthy, and sustainable communities. We provide curriculum resources, teacher workshops, and service learning opportunities used by teachers, schools, and districts in all 50 states and over 60 countries. By 2020, Facing the Future programming will reach over 12.5 million students each year.

The materials they have developed cover the same things that students need to learn to conform to state standards, but with a focus on environmental sustainability.

They have a lot of useful activities that are free to download (you only need to provide your email address. They haven't spammed me, so I believe it's safe.) Typical topics are:

From Issue to Opportunity
Students develop criteria for determining what makes an issue global in scope and then brainstorm, categorize, and prioritize the interconnections among the issues and explore solutions.

Fueling the Future
Students compare energy use and CO2 emissions by sector in the United States and China (and optionally in another country).

How Big is a Billion?
A short demonstration of what 1 billion looks like, using increasing amounts of rice to represent the world’s population. Students then create their own representations of one billion.

Is It Sustainable?
Students define and discuss sustainability and its three key components: the economy, the environment, and society.

I've seen some sample materials from the Facing the Future program:

Real World Math: Engaging Students through Global Issues - Foundational Algebra and Geometry

I was impressed with the various topics (population growth, poverty reduction, budgeting, paper vs plastic) used as motivation for the algebra and geometry that students need to learn. There si a meaningful context for the math, and hopefully a lesson that students take with them through life. Their description:

This two-part resource engages students in learning foundational algebra and geometry through real-world data on global issues. The teacher's guide and corresponding student workbook contain 15 lessons on topics such as climate change and financial literacy.

I recommend you check out FacingTheFuture. There is a lot of good material there!

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