How West Windsor Plainsboro Schools Humanize Math | Sue Totaro & Melissa Pearson

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In West Windsor Plainsboro Schools in New Jersey, USA, over 200 teachers working with the district’s K-5 students are integrating empathy and cultural understanding in mathematics (and beyond) through a partnership with Better World Ed. Click the article tab to hear Sue Totaro share more on the power of Better World Ed in West Windsor Plainsboro Schools.


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How West Windsor Plainsboro Schools Humanize Math | Sue Totaro & Melissa Pearson

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In West Windsor Plainsboro Schools in New Jersey, USA, over 200 teachers working with the district’s K-5 students are integrating empathy and understanding in mathematics through a partnership with Better World Ed.


Building relationships. Recognizing perspective. Connecting to a global community. How can educators begin to shift classroom communities to increase global awareness and build a capacity toward inclusive and equitable practices?


Storytelling connects us as human beings, as it helps us recognize the possibility inherent in all and shifts the perspective of even the youngest child outward. We recognize ourselves in each other. We create space for different journeys. Through Better World Ed we have increased the capacity for engaging students in the power of mathematics.


Two West Windsor Plainsboro Schools building principals, my partner (Melissa Pearson), and I were charged with running professional development that integrated global competence, SEL, and K-5 mathematics for our district colleagues. We needed a hook.


“What if we serve chai?”


I love chai. I love the buttery, spicy, first sip, the reminder to slow down, the experience of community when I drink it with friends. The pause, and the conversation.


And If serving chai while we engage teachers in professional development creates a tangible, physical, and sensory experience? Why not?


We served chai. And we introduced Shantanu, one of my favorite people in the world.


We met Shantanu in the first Learning Journey we shared with faculty and with our West Windsor Plainsboro school district administrators. As a chaiwala who loves to build community connections in India, Shantanu (and the story readers) uses math to interact with customers and develop his business. While the Learning Journeys can be used as stand-alone lessons, we tapped into the power of the stories to support the West Windsor Plainsboro Schools Strategic Goals and designed a professional development experience to illustrate the following:


1) We believe all students should have access to rigorous, high-level mathematical content in an environment where risk-taking, deep conceptual understanding, and growth mindset are the norm. The context of the stories builds a connection for the learning, because teachers can search by academic, social, emotional, and global standards so planning for integration and interdisciplinary dives is supported.


2) The global connections in the Learning Journeys build students’ perspective taking, in turn building a disposition and capacity to impact their community and the world. The authentic tasks provide an opportunity for students to see the power of mathematics in working toward social justice and creating agency.


3) Mathematics should provide students with the opportunity to develop agency, to see themselves as “doers of math.” We structured our professional development so that all of our teachers and administrators could experience the Learning Journey. They watched the video, read the story, checked their assumptions, and then worked together to articulate their thinking around the mathematics. And we drank chai, as a community.



District SEL at West Windsor Plainsboro Schools District Sue Totaro Math Melissa Pearson Shantanu



The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Catalyzing Change Series describes our responsibility of fostering mathematics identity, agency, and authority in all of our students. The Learning Journeys attend to all three of these aspects of equitable mathematics instruction. Reshaping mathematics so that all children have positive and impactful learning experiences is central to the work that we do. The spaces we create within our mathematics classrooms need to support sense-making by leveraging student’s funds of knowledge. When students see themselves in the learning, we promote a sense of belonging in our mathematics communities. All students are entitled to a classroom that invites discourse, critical thinking, and rich tasks that prompt deep intellectual engagement.


Today, teachers are leaning into the classroom culture they have built with their students to frame their discussions around racism and the historical context of protest in this country. They are listening, validating, and responding in developmentally appropriate language. Teacher after teacher in West Windsor Plainsboro Schools has shared that the experience students have had recognizing the perspective of others through the Learning Journeys created opportunities for them to practice this extraordinarily difficult work during a time of transition, uncertainty, and unimagined change.


by Sue Totaro & Melissa Pearson, West Windsor Plainsboro Schools

How West Windsor Plainsboro Schools Humanize Math | Sue Totaro & Melissa Pearson

Making Math More Human Humanize Math Sue Totaro West Windsor Plainsboro Schools

Hear Sue Totaro, from West Windsor Plainsboro Schools, share more about how we can humanize math together.

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