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A Math Lesson For MLK Day

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

This lesson asks the question, "Why do some schools do better than others?"

Learning Targets

  • Describe the relationship between two quantitative variables.

  • Understand why correlation does not imply causation.

  • Use a line of best fit to make predictions and calculate and interpret a residual.

  • Consider possible confounding variables that contribute to educational inequity.

  • Brainstorm possible solutions to eliminate educational inequity.

Activity: Why Do Some Schools Do Better Than Others?

Download Activity:

The lesson starts with a thought-provoking question based on data from a random sample of 11 high schools in Michigan: What variable is represented on the x-axis?

At some point, the teacher reveals the truth to students. The variable represented on the x-axis is “Percent of students  who are free or reduced lunch.” We can conclude there is a strong, negative, linear relationship between income level and student achievement for high schools in Michigan.

The Most Important Part of the Lesson

Yes, there are some learning targets here related to math and statistics, but the real learning outcome is for our students to start thinking about why this inequity exists. Are students from poor families biologically less capable of academic achievement? What are some other explanations for why this relationship exists? And here comes the most important question of the lesson: What can we do about it?

Why Does This Matter?

The beauty of public education is that every student has the opportunity to sit in the same classrooms with amazing teachers and brilliant lessons. It doesn’t matter if a student comes from a family with parent(s) that make a million bucks a year or $50,000 a year or are unemployed. Public education should be the great equalizer. But the data tell the true story. We need to do better. Students from poor families deserve the opportunity to learn at the same level as students from affluent families.

What Can We Do?

Here are a few places we can start to think about:

  • Tracking — Tracking students immediately labels their ability and potential–and that label has a significant impact on their probability of future success. See what happened when Jo Boaler detracked math courses for students in an urban setting.

  • Lecture, Lecture, Lecture — Sure this might be the way that we learned when we were in school and this approach certainly works well for some students (guess what…many of them come from affluent families). But is this approach working for all of your students? Consider doing more activity based learning where students are talking to students (Experience First, Formalize Later!).

  • Standards — Are you hyperfocused on getting through a long list of standards for students to memorize? Are students regurgitating algorithms with no real understanding of what’s going on? Let’s try and focus more on getting students thinking, reasoning, and justifying. Here is a good place to start.

Please share this lesson with other math teachers (it was designed to be accessible in any high school math class!).

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Kathy Bliss
Kathy Bliss
Jan 17, 2021

1) THANK YOU 2) where did the data originate? 3) do you have a link to the data please?


Michelle Dufek
Michelle Dufek
Jan 14, 2021

Are the links broken? Would love to do this next week to start the new semester!


Kelly Schmidt
Kelly Schmidt
Jan 19, 2020

I totally meant to ask about this at the workshop yesterday but completely forgot. This is awesome! Thanks!!

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