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Creating a Global Math Classroom in Rural North Carolina

by Naomi Blum, MEd
T2TGlobal’s Education Engagement Coordinator 

Silk Hope School in Siler City, North Carolina, forms a small, tight-knit community. Often the staff there watch students grow up from kindergarten all the way through eighth grade, witnessing their evolution as people and learners. In an environment with little turnover, teachers have a unique glimpse into each child’s role within the larger community.

Last month, T2TGlobal Executive Director Chadd McGlone and I were invited to bring global education to two middle school math classes at Silk Hope School. The sixth grade teacher asked us to demonstrate a lesson on order of operations. We opened the discussion with a Global Math Story from Chichicastenango, Guatemala.

Vendors grow, grill and sell corn on the cob at the market

This town houses the country’s largest open marketplace. As we took a video tour  through the stalls, students talked about whether the items for sale at the market looked familiar to them, relating these new sights to their everyday lives.

We segued into the concept of order of operations with an engaging number trick (often magicians perform at the marketplace). Then students worked forward and backward through different problems, making sense of why an order of operations exists. Before this lesson, PEMDAS (parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction) was an acronym they memorized. By the end of the class period, students had developed a deeper understanding of the concept.

To wrap up the class, we circled back to Chichicastenango with a social justice question—

What do you think would happen if a Walmart opened near the market?

This sparked a lively conversation with students building off one another’s responses. They emphatically advocated for preserving Chichicastenango residents’ livelihood and culture. The discussion even carried into the teacher’s lounge, when the classroom teacher described this excitement to her colleagues.

Our next stop was an eighth grade classroom, where we demonstrated a global lesson on linear equations. We began by showing a video of the renowned flag ceremony at the border between India and Pakistan, asking students to watch for a real-life example of a linear function. When the video finished, instead of jumping immediately into the math, we asked questions about how hate and prejudice are perpetuated.

An Indian border guard demonstrates the high kicks that form part of the daily ceremony

Next, students identified the linear equation from the video. They noticed that, as both countries’ flags were lowered, the height of the flags changed over time. Provided with a graphing activity about the flags’ movement, the students worked in small groups to talk through their thinking. Several of them had an aha moment when their eyes lit up as they described their thinking to a peer.

It was rewarding for us to see how enthusiastically students built their own knowledge. This is what T2TGlobal is all about—empowering students to take charge of their learning.


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