Queering Maths-World

During this Covid-19 Lockdown I’m away from my Poly-Family and other networks as well apart from my Family-of-Origin – doing my best to stay safe in the more asthma-friendly air by the sea. I’m really missing actively being an Aunty to my (one of) my partner’s children children – phone calls and Skype are great but they aren’t the same as actually being with them. For health protection it makes perfect sense to divide us all up by household but that’s not how many of our complicated and wonderful families usually work….

Even though I’m not responsible for the meta-children’s day-to-day “home learning” I’ve been looking out for useful resources for them and was really pleased to find these learning packs from Stonewall. We frequently discuss “different families” (including that our family has a different shape from many of the school friends’) and read age-appropriate LGBT+ themed books together (they’ve been particularly fond of And Tango Makes Three) but I hadn’t come across inclusive maths problems before.

When I was at school maths problems were usually about boys whose names conveniently began with A, B and C or about families with a Daddy, a Mummy, one boy and one girl (and a dog if you were practising multiplying by 5). I didn’t even notice how much that was defining “normal” for me and my classmates even when it didn’t match our own lives (maths-world people never seemed to live in an extended family). Later I remember a chemistry text book published for the new GCSE’s (I really am quite old now!) making an effort to refer to the hypothetical scientists in problems as “she” and include a more diverse selection of names. It was almost shocking having the normative world of textbook problems opened up like that. Even though I was a girl studying sciences I wasn’t used to seeing women scientists in books, except maybe Marie Curie who was both a genius and dead so wasn’t exactly a realistically copyable role-model for a 15 year old. It felt powerful, though maybe a bit heavy handed (I don’t think there were any hypothetical “he” scientist in the whole book). But I think it was the only one of our textbooks that did that and there certainly weren’t any “they” pronoun people in textbook world or and LGBT people and “different families” – the acronym wasn’t in use then I certainly dind’t hear the B word until relatively late in Secondary school, let alone the T or the idea of their being any kind of +….

I’ve only looked at the Key Stage 2 Maths Problems so far (there are also learning packs for Reception and  Key Stage 1, Secondary School pupils and for SEND pupils working to the P-levels – which I was particularly pleased to see because SEN children with and young people with “different families” or who are maybe LGBT+ themselves are often forgotten) and the hypothetical characters in them use a range of different pronouns and have various different shapes of family. Some of the examples are of actual LGBT+ celebrities most children will have heard of – like a question about Sam Smith’s audiences using the correct “they” pronouns, gently exemplifying that LGBT+ people and families are everywhere. I particularly like the Year 5 longer-form problem working out the possible lengths of Fairy Lights needed for the marquee (with a known area but unknown perimeter) for Miguel and Zak’s wedding – it ticks all the right showing-how-maths-is-useful-in-the-real-world boxes as well as the inclusivity ones. And who doesn’t love fairy lights …

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