S3 Ep3: Math Classrooms as the Incubators of Rational Thought with Karim Ani of Citizen Math


This episode focuses on how mathematics and math classrooms can help create students who are better prepared to deal with real issues that can change the future. Karim Ani , the founder of Citizen Math (formerly Mathalicious), an online real-world problem-solving site, discusses the journey to developing Mathalicious, and how things have progressed since then.


He shares insights into why it is so important to help students think critically and collaborate openly around key cultural and societal issues that are relevant to them today. Through real problems, students can develop relationships, learn to respect other opinions, and use mathematics in a way to make a difference in the world.


Through his varied experiences and world travels, Karim shares how his perspectives about the world inspired his founding of Mathalicious, writing problems around real issues, instead of contrived ‘textbook’ problems.


He talks about how the divisiveness in the country and our inability to really discuss issues civilly, makes solving problems so difficult. Using mathematics as a lens to look at issues, we could use mathematics to inform the discussion and disagree constructively, using math as a tool. If we ground our discussions around real issues, use mathematics as a tool to analyze the issue, discuss rationally, and collect data to support and defend our argument, then we can be more thoughtful and analytical about solutions.


Karim offers suggestions, and provides some examples, of problems/issues that can be used to really help students use mathematics in a real and relevant way. The goal of problem-solving shouldn’t be about contextualizing mathematics, instead we should help students USE mathematics to understand the world.


Be sure to listen to the whole episode because Karim provides valuable thinking around how math class and the way we teach with math can really help students become true problem-solvers focused on making a difference in the world. He provides at least one real experience that shows how mathematics can in fact, change perspectives and provide insight into the world.



Questions and topics explored in this episode:

  1. What is meant by, “math class is an incubator for a thoughtful society?”

  2. What does Citizen Math (website) offer for teachers and students that helps them create a learning experience, using math, that develops problem-solving skills and productive, rational thought around real issues?

  3. What is the difference between “using the world to look at math” (textbooks) versus “using math to look at the world” (Citizen Math)?

  4. What is the ‘last step’ that we skip in mathematics?

  5. Should major league baseball standardized baseball fields?

  6. Why are conversations with students about real and interesting issues so important to learning and teaching?

  7. How do you address time and content-coverage concerns with schools/teachers/districts when it comes to problem-solving?

  8. How does using real problems to learn mathematics actually improve student achievement (even if it’s only 1-2 Citizen Math problems a year)?

  9. Why are teachers leaving the profession and how does teaching mathematics through problem-solving help sustain the profession?

  10. How do you have difficult discussions and talk about difficult topics without causing controversy? Should we avoid those hot button topics?

  11. What’s the point of math?

  12. What is informed ambivalence?

  13. How do you decide on and create the problems for Citizen Math? What is the lesson process?

Links to resources mentioned in the episode:

  1. Karim Ani (LinkedIn)

  2. Twitter: @karimkai

  3. Karim Kai: Founder of Mathalicious (article from 2011)

  4. Citizen Math (Online real-world problem-solving resources)

  5. Dear Citizen Math: How Math Class Can Inspire a More Rational and Respectful Society

  6. The Robertson Center Presents: Real Value of Math Class

  7. Out of Left Field (Citizen Math Lesson w/Quadratic)

  8. Northwestern University Study Research Results (on Mathalicious)

  9. Your So Fined (Speeding Ticket Lesson)

  10. Desmos

  11. Eli Luberoff

  12. Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

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