Study: Place-Based Math Education Easier to Teach Than Practice

By Diette Courrégé Casey

Place-based math education is easier to teach about than to put into practice in rural classrooms, according to a new study.

Place-based math education is when teachers tap the unique history, geography, and culture of a community to help students understand math lessons. That could be as simple as using farm animals to teach addition or subtraction. “Place-Based Mathematics Education: A Conflated Pedagogy?”, published in the Journal of Research in Rural Education, looked at the sustainability of that approach.

Many rural schools have embraced place-based education because they say it makes lessons more relevant and helps enhance their sense of place. Still, some have raised concerns with the practice and questioned whether it reduces the rigor of lessons.

For the study, 15 graduates of rural math education doctoral programs were interviewed about how they integrate place-based education in their classrooms.

Teachers talked about the gap between the theory they had learned on place-based math and how they should make it work in the classroom.

“… There was a general sense that teaching mathematics should somehow be different in rural contexts,” according to the study. “However, most participants were unsure of how to approach this difference beyond being aware of their students’ backgrounds and using ‘rural-friendly’ examples in instruction and testing.”

Most teachers also found it difficult to teach place-based math education in higher-level math courses (algebra level and above). The exception was teaching statistics, where place-based math helped give context and was “indispensable for understanding the process of statistical investigation.”

The study suggested that place-based statistics education is “ripe” as an area to expand new research and classroom practice.