Youth-Directed Math Collaboratories and Mathematical Identity: African American Youth as Co-Learners, Co-Educators and Co-Researchers

October 1st, 2021 - July 31st, 2025 | PROJECT

Many Black youth in both urban and rural areas lack engaging opportunities to learn mathematics in a manner that leads to full participation in STEM. The Young People’s Project (YPP), the Baltimore Algebra Project (BAP), and the Education for Liberation Network (EdLib) each have over two decades of experience working on this issue. In the city of Baltimore, where 90% of youth in poverty are Black, and only 5% of these students meet or exceed expectations in math, BAP, a youth led organization, develops and employs high school and college age youth to provide after-school tutoring in Algebra 1, and to advocate for a more just education for themselves and their peers. YPP works in urban or rural low income communities that span the country developing Math Literacy Worker programs that employ young people ages 14-22 to create spaces to help their younger peers learn math. Building on these deep and rich experiences, this Innovations in Development project studies how Black students see themselves as mathematicians in the context of paid peer-to-peer math teaching--a combined social, pedagogical, and economic strategy. Focusing primarily in Baltimore, the project studies how young people grow into new self-definitions through their work in informal, student-determined math learning spaces, structured collaboratively with adults who are experts in both mathematics and youth development. The project seeks to demonstrate the benefits of investing in young people as learners, teachers, and educational collaborators as part of a core strategy to improve math learning outcomes for all students.

The project uses a mixed methods approach to describe how mathematical identity develops over time in young people employed in a Youth-Directed Mathematics Collaboratory. 60 high school aged students with varying mathematical backgrounds (first in Baltimore and later in Boston) will learn how to develop peer- and near-peer led math activities with local young people in informal settings, after-school programs, camps, and community centers, reaching approximately 600 youth/children. The high school aged youth employed in this project will develop their own math skills and their own pedagogical skills through the already existing YPP and BAP structures, made up largely of peers and near-peers just like themselves. They will also participate in on-going conversations within the Collaboratory and with the community about the cultural significance of doing mathematics, which for YPP and BAP is a part of the ongoing Civil Rights/Human Rights movement. Mathematical identity will be studied along four dimensions: (a) students’ sequencing and interpretation of past mathematical experiences (autobiographical identity); (b) other people’s talk to them and their talk about themselves as learners, doers, and teachers of mathematics (discoursal identity); (c) the development of their own voices in descriptions and uses of mathematical knowledge and ideas (authorial identity); and (d) their acceptance or rejection of available selfhoods (socio-culturally available identity). Intended outcomes from the project include a clear description of how mathematical identity develops in paid peer-teaching contexts, and growing recognition from both local communities and policy-makers that young people have a key role to play, not only as learners, but also as teachers and as co-researchers of mathematics education.

This Innovations in Development project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Project Products

2023 AISL Awardee Mini-Poster: 2115730

Team Members

Jay Gillen, Principal Investigator, Young People's Project, Inc.
Maisha Moses, Co-Principal Investigator
Thomas Nikundiwe, Co-Principal Investigator
Naama Lewis, Co-Principal Investigator
Alice Cook, Co-Principal Investigator


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2115730
Funding Amount: $976,614.00


Access and Inclusion: Black | African American Communities | Ethnic | Racial | Rural | Urban
Audience: Administration | Leadership | Policymakers | Educators | Teachers | Elementary School Children (6-10) | Middle School Children (11-13) | Museum | ISE Professionals | Undergraduate | Graduate Students | Youth | Teen (up to 17)
Discipline: Mathematics
Resource Type: Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: Afterschool Programs | Public Programs | Summer and Extended Camps