I am fortunate to be a member of the EF+Math Educator Leadership Council which affords me the opportunity to collaborate with the Mathematical Thinkers Like Me R&D team on concept, design, and implementation plans to ensure that the program being developed is useful and usable in real-world classrooms especially for black, brown and historically underserved students. In this work, I am learning and growing in my understanding of executive functions in practice, developing conceptual understanding in mathematics, and fostering equity in the classroom. Furthermore, I am learning how to humanize my math class and create a community where all feel welcome, valued, and safe.

I routinely ask my students to bravely show up to occasionally get their asses kicked in the mathematics arena. Therefore I must help them develop the confidence to put themselves and their thinking on the line. To do this I engage them in activities designed to create an ‘Ubuntu’ environment of belonging and love. As a member of the Mathematical Thinkers Like Me team, I have discovered the Four Hs protocol and Life Values Writing Prompt to foster this kind of community.

The 4H Math Interest Interview developed by Jamaal Sharif Matthews draws on the knowledge and experiences among students within your class and aids in planning for instruction that is most meaningful to them. The components of the 4Hs are as follows:

- Home refers to consistent activities engaged at home or the properties of the home space (e.g., cooking, interactions with family, the heating bill, dimensions of the living room).
- Hobbies are personal activities engaged in at least once per week (e.g., sports teams, social media, work, smartphone apps/games).
- Hopes are personal aspirations, interests, or goals (e.g., desired career or major, making the varsity team, making my paycheck last all week).
- Heritage is a connection to a tradition or a people that is a source of pride (e.g., local celebrities in the community, Black female mathematicians)

To get started, I distributed the Math Interest Survey as part of my Parent Survey at meet the teacher night. I explained to families that I wanted to get to know them and use what I learn to help students connect math to their homes, hopes, heritage, and hobbies. I asked each family to choose four of their favorite questions, discuss and answer them as a family and then return the survey to school as soon as possible. I received several responses from families, but I really wanted all of my students’ responses. Therefore, I also conducted the survey in class. I shared this presentation with students and then distributed the survey and asked them to answer four of their favorite questions as well as the mandatory question. I followed this activity by asking students to complete the Life Values Writing Prompt. According to Luis Rivera, self-affirmation writing helps students connect with “values associated with our personal and social identities and are important and central to individuals. Furthermore, self-affirmation writing serves to buffer threats, particularly in the domain of biases.” This in turn results in higher academic achievement. Following these activities, students were asked to reflect on their writing and use the information to create and write about three goals for themselves this school year.

Conducting these activities was a powerful way to connect to my students. I am better able to understand what they value and how they see their culture, interests, and hopes. Therefore, I can authentically engage with and plan more effectively for them. Most importantly, “this activity gives students an opportunity to be heard and feel like they are being paid attention to.” Furthermore, this activity is “powerful because it is about more than just “getting to know” students. It is geared toward showing them that their prior knowledge and experiences are important to your instruction and their own learning. It gives them a chance to feel seen and heard.”

##### References

Matthews, J. S. (2018). On Mindset and Practices for Re-Integrating “Belonging” into Mathematics Instruction. *Teaching Works*.

Rivera, L. (2021, 10 1). *Luis Rivera*. Retrieved from Rutgers: https://sasn.rutgers.edu/about-us/faculty-staff/luis-rivera-0