Exploring Mathematics of the Sociopolitical Through Culturally Relevant Pedagogy in a College Algebra Course at a Historically Black College/University



college mathematics, critical race theory, culturally relevant pedagogy, mathematics education


In collegiate mathematics, college algebra continues to be a barrier to graduation for students (specifically non-science, mathematics, engineering, and science majors). Each year, nearly half of enrolled students struggle to “pass” this course with a grade of C or better (Herriott, 2006). Using innovative constructed lessons geared towards African American students, this research study was designed to investigate the effects of a sequence of such lessons grounded in the principles of culturally relevant pedagogy on students enrolled in an introductory college algebra course at a historically Black college/university. Using critical race theory as a lens, along with culturally relevant pedagogy, this study explored students’ abilities to apply mathematics to address contentious and present-day sociopolitical problems through eight in-depth semi-structure student interviews. Further, findings also suggest the need for collegiate mathematics instruction to have more emphasis on cultural components to build students’ sociopolitical consciousnesses, because this is integral in helping students be able to think critically and use mathematics in their everyday lives. Students in this experimental course were able to discuss difficult issues, such as the pervasiveness of racism in America (DeCuir & Dixson, 2004) and the importance of cultural identity for African American students (Martin, 2009).


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Author Biographies

Gregory A. Downing, North Carolina Central University

Gregory A. Downing, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Science in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at North Carolina Central University. Dr. Downing earned his Ph.D. in Learning and Teaching in STEM Education with a concentration in Mathematics and Statistics Education from North Carolina State University. He holds a Master of Science in Mathematics from North Carolina Central University, a Master of Arts in Teaching (Secondary Mathematics) from Duke University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Downing’s research explores equity and diversity issues within STEM education, specifically how current teaching and learning practices within the K-16 system (dis/en)able students of color and other marginalized students to/from entering STEM careers. His dissertation, Leveraging Culturally Relevant Pedagogy in a College Algebra Course: A Mixed Methods Study was awarded an Outstanding Dissertation of the Year in the Department of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education at North Carolina State University. Prior to his tenure-track position at NC Central, Dr. Downing was a fully funded doctoral student as a Bill and Melinda Gates Millennium Graduate Fellow. Most recently, he was awarded a $10,000 grant from the Burrough’s Wellcome Fund to partner NC Central and NC State’s Leadership Internship for Future Teachers (LIFT) program to help diversify the STEM teacher pipeline.

Whitney N. McCoy, University of Virginia

Whitney N. McCoy, Ph.D. is a Postdoctoral Research Associate on the Making Engineering Real (ME-REAL) National Science Foundation Grant in the Curry School of Education and Human Development at the University of Virginia. Mr. McCoy earned her Ph.D. in Teacher Education and Learning Sciences with a concentration in Educational Psychology from North Carolina State University. She holds a Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and received her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Winston-Salem State University. Dr. McCoy’s research explores identity development for Black girls in educational settings. Her research interests include critical race theory, racial identity development, self-efficacy, and STEM education. Her dissertation, Black Girls Accepting the Grand Challenge: A Qualitative Exploration of a Summer Engineering Program’s Influence on Black Girls’ Racial Identity, Engineering Identity, and STEM Self-Efficacy was awarded Outstanding Dissertation of the Year in the Department of Teacher Education and Learning Sciences at North Carolina State University. Prior to her postdoctoral role, as a fully funded doctoral student, she was a Southern Regional Education Board Doctoral Scholar and a recipient of the prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.


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How to Cite

Gregory A. Downing, & Whitney N. McCoy. (2021). Exploring Mathematics of the Sociopolitical Through Culturally Relevant Pedagogy in a College Algebra Course at a Historically Black College/University. Journal of Urban Mathematics Education, 14(1), 45–70. Retrieved from https://jume-ojs-tamu.tdl.org/jume/index.php/JUME/article/view/413



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