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NewsDec 7, 2021

Lesley STEAM Learning Lab receives grant from Takeda

Three-year initiative aims to bring equity to math education

Small Black child doing a math problem at a whiteboard
Photo by Katerina Holmes from Pexels

Takeda Pharmaceutical Company is expanding its corporate social responsibility, and the Lesley STEAM Learning Lab is one of several organizations that will benefit. 

This week, the company, whose United States headquarters are based in Massachusetts, announced that it will donate $16,595,000 to 20 organizations in the United States to help improve equity among underrepresented communities in the areas of health, education, the environment and access to nutrition/food. The exact amount granted to each institution has not been released. 

The three-year grant for Lesley will enable the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) Learning Lab to develop and implement Culturally Relevant Math Expressions (CRME), an initiative that will focus on training K-8 educators in how to teach math in a way that is culturally inclusive and helps kids to see themselves as “mathematical thinkers,” says STEAM Learning Lab Director Sue Cusack

“There’s a cultural norm in this country that says math is separate from everyday life. Our program seeks to explore both the understanding of culture and the understanding of mathematics and to amplify the connections between the two,” she says. 

A brightly colored pattern
Culturally Relevant Math Expressions will employ incorporate cultural artifacts and practices. This computationally generated image is one example and uses the Nontsi Culturally Situated Design Tool. Courtesy of Nettrice Gaskins.

With CRME, she and her team will help teachers bridge conventional math instruction and innovative practices by making them more relevant to their students’ real lives while also dispelling the fears that come with learning math.

“Most math curricula aren’t designed to be connected to the real world and the experiences of students,” explains Cusack. Instead, the Learning Lab will encourage “thinking more broadly about ways that math exists in our world without us really even noticing.” 

The curricula will build on existing STEAM materials developed by the STEAM Learning Lab team and incorporate elements such as robotics and fabrication. There will also be a focus on creating more equity in the classroom. 

Assistant Director Dr. Nettrice Gaskins noted that the “activities will make use of cultural artifacts and practices such as quilting, weaving, murals and T-shirt and sneaker design, helping educators learn their connection to math principles, and develop projects to engage students and their communities.”

“Most underserved kids are given remedial support instead of hands-on learning opportunities that lean into critical thinking,” says Cusack. “We’re not good at helping them identify the experiences and skills that they come to school with.” 

And many educators aren’t given the tools to teach their students those important lessons. 

“I really see STEAM work as helping us get good practices in the classroom,” says Cusack. “Kids spend a lot of time in school, so we really need to introduce more practices that help them see what they can do and develop a stronger sense of identity as mathematical thinkers. Learning can be and should be engaging and reinforce self-confidence.” 

Over the next three years, the Learning Lab will host educators from across the country through virtual and in-person workshops as well as a summer institute planned for 2023. Funds from the grant will go toward developing the materials and toolkits for the workshops, staffing them and offsetting the cost of participation for teachers, who will be able to earn Professional Development Points or Continuing Education Units.

Workshops will begin in the new year.