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Embracing solutionary teaching: Revolutionizing math education and environmental awareness

In a world increasingly defined by its environmental crises and the urgent need for sustainable solutions, educators are at the forefront of nurturing the next generation of problem solvers. This transformative role is epitomized by the concept of the “solutionary teacher”

Photo courtesy of Sheila Mae Manlangit
Photo courtesy of Sheila Mae Manlangit

This article is Sponsored Content by Sheila Mae Manlangit

Solutionary teaching was introduced in the Environmental Solutionary Teacher Fellowship (ESTF) organized by the San Mateo County of Education. It is a knowledge-to-action program that builds teacher capacity for designing and delivering learning experiences that are student-centered, problem-project-based, solutions-oriented, and integrate real-world environmental justice issues.

Now that climate change is mandated to be taught in CA schools due to the passing of AB285, ESTF was a perfect opportunity for me to prepare for that.

This article explores my journey as a solutionary teacher, detailing how it has revolutionized my math instruction and profoundly impacted my students’ learning experiences.

What is solutionary teaching?

Solutionary teaching, a term popularized by the Institute for Humane Education, involves cultivating students who are capable of identifying and addressing real-world problems through ethical reasoning, critical thinking, and systemic analysis. In math education, this means moving beyond abstract exercises to engaging students with practical, real-world issues that require mathematical solutions. By connecting mathematical concepts with sustainability and ethical considerations, students not only improve their math skills but also develop a deeper understanding of their role in addressing global challenges.

The need for change in math education

Traditional math education often isolates mathematical concepts from their real-world applications, making it difficult for students to see the relevance of what they are learning. As an educator, I observed a significant disengagement among students who viewed math as a series of meaningless numbers and equations. This disconnect prompted me to seek a more engaging and meaningful way to teach math—one that would not only captivate students but also equip them with the skills and mindset necessary to address the pressing environmental issues of our time.

Integrating real-world problems

One of the most powerful aspects of solutionary teaching is its emphasis on real-world problems. In my math classes, I introduced a unit on analyzing prey species abundance for seals in the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. This unit required students to apply measures of central tendency — mean, median, and mode — to actual data on seal populations. By linking mathematical concepts to ecological research, students saw firsthand how math could be used to solve real environmental problems.

This approach transformed their perception of math from a set of abstract principles to a valuable tool for understanding and improving the world around them. The engagement and enthusiasm in the classroom were palpable, as students worked with data that had real-world implications for the health of marine ecosystems.

Enhancing critical thinking and ethical reasoning

Solutionary teaching goes beyond teaching students how to perform calculations; it encourages them to think critically about the data they are working with and consider the broader implications of their analyses. In the unit on prey species abundance, students were not only tasked with calculating statistical measures but also with interpreting what these statistics revealed about the health of the seal population and the ecosystem as a whole.

They engaged in discussions about the ethical implications of human activities on marine life, fostering a deeper understanding of both math and environmental ethics. This dual focus on critical thinking and ethical reasoning helped students develop a more holistic perspective, enabling them to see the interconnectedness of mathematical analysis and real-world problem-solving.

Promoting collaborative learning

Another cornerstone of solutionary teaching is collaborative learning. Students work in teams to tackle complex problems, promoting the development of communication and teamwork skills. In my math classes, group projects on environmental data analysis became a regular feature. Students collaborated to collect data, analyze it, and present their findings, mirroring the collaborative nature of scientific research.

These projects not only enhanced their mathematical skills but also taught them how to work effectively as part of a team — a critical skill in both academic and professional settings. The collaborative nature of these projects also reinforced the idea that solving complex problems requires diverse perspectives and collective effort.

Impact on students’ learning and engagement

The shift to solutionary teaching had a profound impact on my students’ learning outcomes and engagement in Math and environmental issues.

By linking math problems to real-world issues, students found the subject more engaging and relevant. Surveys conducted at the end of each unit revealed a significant increase in student interest in mathematics. One student commented, “I used to think math was just numbers and equations, but now I see how it can help solve real problems.”

Moreover, solutionary teaching emphasizes critical thinking and problem-solving, skills essential for both academic success and real-world applications. Students demonstrated a marked improvement in their ability to analyze data, identify patterns, and draw meaningful conclusions. These skills are transferable across disciplines, enhancing overall academic performance.

Furthermore, integrating environmental issues into math instruction raised students’ awareness of sustainability and conservation. They became more informed about ecological challenges and more motivated to contribute to solutions. This was evident in the class and group discussions, which often focused on environmental themes, demonstrating a commitment to applying their math skills to global issues.

Additionally, students developed a deeper understanding of environmental issues through the integration of ecological data into math problems. Lessons on analyzing prey species abundance in the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, for instance, provided a practical context for discussing biodiversity and conservation. Students learned how mathematical tools could be used to monitor and protect ecosystems, enhancing their environmental literacy.

Similarly, solutionary teaching empowers students to see themselves as agents of change. Through projects and discussions, they learned that they could use their skills to make a positive impact. This sense of empowerment was reflected in their participation in environmental initiatives both within and outside of school. Many students joined or started eco-clubs, participated in local conservation efforts, and advocated for sustainable practices in their communities.

Lastly, the most profound impact of solutionary teaching is the development of a solutionary mindset — an outlook that prioritizes ethical considerations and systemic solutions. Students began to approach problems with a holistic perspective, considering the social, economic, and environmental dimensions of their decisions. This mindset will serve them well in all areas of life, fostering responsible citizenship and leadership.

Being a solutionary teacher has fundamentally transformed my approach to teaching mathematics and has had a profound impact on my students. By integrating real-world problems and environmental concerns into the curriculum, students not only developed stronger mathematical skills but also became more environmentally literate and motivated to contribute to sustainable solutions. This approach fosters a holistic understanding of the interconnectedness of our world and equips students with the skills and mindset needed to address the complex challenges of the 21st century. As educators, embracing solutionary teaching is essential for preparing our students to be informed, responsible, and proactive citizens.

About the writer

Sheila Mae Manlangit is a Math teacher at Terra Nova High School who earned her undergraduate degree in Bachelor of Secondary Education major in Mathematics from Cebu Normal University and Master’s of Education major in Mathematics from University of the Philippines Cebu. She has published research journal articles entitled, “Concrete and Virtual Geoboard: Effects on Student’s Geometry Performance” and “The Effect of Rubrics on Students’ Mathematics Performance” and has been recognized as a Math Educator of the Year by Dakilang Filipino, a national award giving body that honours individuals for attaining the highest level of excellence in their respective fields through their remarkable accomplishments, setting a new benchmark and creating a beacon of inspiration for others to follow.

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