Case study analysis of mathematics literacy workers’ identity and understanding of numbers within a community of practice
Brewley-Corbin, Denise Natasha
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This study examined what identities four African American college mathematics literacy workers (CMLWs) and high school mathematics literacy workers (MLWs) of the Young People’s Project (YPP) in Chicago had during Flagway Game workshop training. This study also examined what understanding of numbers participants had as a result of their involvement in the training. The YPP is a youth empowerment and after-school mathematics initiative created by students in Jackson, Mississippi. The Flagway Game was a number theory game derived from the Möbius Function, to help students expand their understanding of natural numbers. The focus of this study was an MLW Flagway Game workshop training, which took place over 4 weeks at Abelin High in January 2007. The study used qualitative case study methodology (Yin, 2003), grounded within a theoretical framework of Wenger’s (1998) communities of practice (CoPs). Interviews were conducted with participants where they were asked to complete mathematical tasks to determine their levels of understanding of some number concepts used in Flagway. Participants were also asked to reflect on their experience in Flagway training and how that experience shaped their mathematics literacy work. Their responses were analyzed using Wenger’s three modes of belonging: engagement, imagination, and alignment. Participant responses were also analyzed from a critical race theory (CRT) perspective using counter-narratives, which showed how they worked towards mathematics literacy for liberation contrary to dominant narratives of failure and passivity. Because of their levels of engagement in practice, participants had a number of identities, which influenced how they understood some number concepts. There were some similarities and differences in identity across participants. CMLWs and MLWs viewed themselves as having; a sense of perseverance, a sense of responsibility, role models, agents of change, authorities in training, and doers of mathematics. The CMLWs were more likely than the MLWs to link their practice to a broader community of mathematics literacy workers. The CMLWs structured their practice to align with future pursuits. The MLWs did not use the work of alignment as readily in practice. CMLWs and MLWs used persistence and a commitment to their community in obtaining mathematics literacy for themselves and others.