2018/01/17 Remake Learning Lunch & Learn: Maisha Moses, Young People’s Project

Ani Martinez
Jan 31, 2018 · 9 min read

Event Recap: Remake Learning Lunch & Learn: Maisha Moses, Young People’s Project.

I’d like to start with huge love and appreciation to Maisha for traveling to Pittsburgh to work with us. Additional thanks to Laura Roop and Jess Pachuta for helping to coordinate the opportunity. Finally, I want to thank Desiree Lee at KST Alloy Studios for hosting us on such a snowy day!

Once again, we are reminded that learning is about “We the People,” as some of you will remember from our CMOA 2020 workshop with Jawanza K. Rand.

In Case You Missed It

This is a brief summary of what happened. You’ll find the full and unedited notes below my signature.

What is YPP?

The Young People’s Project is a collaboration between young people and adults that takes the teachings and practices from the Algebra Project into the afterschool space. As Maisha calls it, “It’s the family business.” Teens work with younger students to provide peer mentorship using math as a vehicle. That’s one reason why we were honored with the presence of students from Allegheny Valley School District.

YPP approaches math as a series of metaphors, like grassroots organizing, to rebuild our understanding of relevance in math to our everyday lives. They work with language a lot, and take great pains to model “math speak” as a common practice to get participants to understand math as a language and a way of life.

YPP focuses on the “lowest quartile” and supports these students with a meaningful task because they need to be involved in helping to solve the problem. To put it another way, YPP helps to set high expectations for students that are often put into remedial courses, and thereby accelerates their learning and confidence.

Maisha said that this, “just reinforces the power of learning to teach and teaching to learn.


One approach YPP has taken to build more culturally relevant approaches to teaching math is through the Flagway Game. You can revisit some of the context setting videos in the links above.

Understanding Flagway as both a game and as a way of learning through struggle and teamwork was truly enlightening to understand what YPP is all about. Without the rule-set handed to you, the game allows for more than one right answer, and creates space for the importance of “not knowing.”

Check out the rest of the meeting details below my signature!

Upcoming Remake Learning Events

Great Remake Micro-Grants Info Session

Want to learn more and apply for a Remake Learning Micro-Grant? Come to this helpful session at Arnold’s Tea on the Northside to get help. Register here: https://remakelearning.org/opportunity/2018/02/09/great-remake-micro-grant-info-session-2/

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Upcoming Meetups and Lunch & Learns for the rest of 2018 will be posted via the Remake Learning Network’s weekly e-blast and calendar.

Partnership and Employment Opportunities with Pittsburgh Public Schools. January 31 More information and register here: https://ppsrmlmeetup.eventbrite.com

Lunch & Learn: The Future of Readiness February 8 More information and register here: https://rmlredefinereadiness.eventbrite.com

Mid-Western PA Future of Learning Meetup February 22 More information and register here: https://midwestpameetup.eventbrite.com

Feminine Gender Norms in STEM with Riki Wilchens February 27 More details and registration are not yet available. Email Ani with interest.

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Thank you for coming and I hope to see you soon!

Below are the unedited meeting minutes:

​At KST Alloy Studio


Connect Leeanne to Hannah re gender pd

Loop in Christine (who attended) on debrief

  • Honored to have some students in the room
  • Assemble came to represent!
  • YPP is a collaboration between young people and older people
  • “The way I got here is a story”
  • Maisha was born in Tanzania
  • She was three when her father began doing math with her
  • They came back to the United States
  • She was doing math at home and at school
  • She got tired of doing math at home and started to resist
  • So her father went to her teacher and told her Maisha needed to teach Algebra
  • The teacher wasn’t able to support, so her father found a way to be her in-school algebra teacher
  • “So that was rough”
  • This was a small school within a school and there was a lot of experimental stuff except in mathematics
  • Also, there were student “levels” that fell pretty much along race and class lines
  • Her dad has a civil rights background
  • Do you think that every child should be able to take algebra in the 7th and 8th grade?
  • When asking parents, some say yes and some say no
  • This is indicative of where we sit with math in this country
  • Every parent wants the best for their children, but we don’t have an agreement for what that means for children
  • So she worked with her father on the Algebra Project and landed in a school in Oakland, CA
  • “It was the most chaotic schools I had ever been in, or have been in, since.”
  • I connected with a student named Princess, who was swimming against the tide of instructional style, her classmates behavior, continual disruptions
  • One day she spotted Princess walking in the hall, and asked her what she was doing. Princess said, “I can’t stand it anymore. I’m not being educated.”
  • It was so powerful because she gave voice to something her classmates were saying, but saying in “dysfunctional ways”
  • The Young Peoples Project was started in Jackson Mississippi by 8th graders
  • Jackson is in the bottom of Mississippi
  • They were facing similar situations as Princess was facing in Oakland.
  • They were able to craft a response to capture Maisha’s attention.
  • They did a small but powerful thing
  • They took bits and pieces of the Algebra Project and doing them afterschool with each other
  • What got them off the ground was the then new graphic calculators. They were learning the tools faster than the teachers
  • They were also able to help others prepare for the Algebra 1 exam
  • YPP focuses on the lowest quartile and supports these students with a meaningful task because they need to be involved in helping to solve the problem.
  • In schools, the problem is directly affecting students every single day. Without the participation of young people in that way, we won’t be able to build a sollution
  • They think about it as entry level knowledge work. Learning something enough so that you can teach it. Articulate thoughts, structure an activity, so there’s a lot of learning taking place.
  • Maisha’s background is in psychology, but she went back for a masters in math. One of her professors said that he didn’t fully understand calculus until he had to teach it. And he had a PhD in math!
  • This just reinforces the power of learning to teach and teaching to learn.
  • But we haven’t invested enough in this practice, but we strive to make it a reality
  • Flagway: A game based on the mobius function
  • The Algebra Project took an approach to math that looked at the everyday activities
  • And in math, the structure of how you talk about things is different than how we talk about things in our daily lives
  • EG “Maisha is taller than Erin” but you can’t say that in math. In math you’d say “Maisha’s height is greater than Erin’s height” and you see that all over the place in science.
  • So Algebra Project integrate this in as many places as possible. The idea of everyday physical events that bring mathematics to life is the approach.
  • Flagway was created to be a physical representation of this function
  • We’ll watch a video and then we’ll play
  • Questions
  • Is there a YPP PGH?
  • Not yet
  • Are most teams city-wide?
  • Yes, mostly in one or two schools or organizations
  • Back to Flagway:
  • “We’ve played it enough to know that something is sticking”
  • Her dad thought about making it a sport, and people said that was crazy, but they took it to the national competition, and there was attention.
  • It’s still pretty nascent
  • Question: could it be that because it’s not an app is what’s helping it to stick?
  • Maisha recommends a TED Talk where he speaks with a child that has been told she is mentally disabled, and the psychologist finds out that this child is fine, and in fact is a dancer. Now she’s a prima-ballerina
  • So the lesson is some people need to move to think, but the whole lesson of school is “don’t move”
  • To Play, you have to learn to set-up the structure. There’s a little bit of math in that. So we’ll get the instructions
  • And to play, you have to think about the numbers according to color.
  • Today we’ll play with three numbers, 2, 4, and 6
  • 2 is red
  • 4 is yellow
  • 6 is blue
  • Without knowing the rules, some questions:
  • Wht are the green dots?
  • What number comes first?
  • Are they operations symbols?
  • HOLD THESE THOUGHTS these are important questions
  • YOu have four branches, but only three colors, so what is supposed to repeat?
  • (some confusion around this question)
  • One is a parent branch and the other are children branches, so there parent four of the same type
  • How are each of the four potentially different?
  • On level three, the main stem goes consistently to red, and the one on the bottom is blue yellow red
  • So there doesn’t seem to be a clear pattern
  • Maisha: I’m not a mathematician, but I’ve been with the Algebra Project for long enough to know that underneath simple questions like these lays a lot of math.
  • So with green dots you have graph theory and operations. These are really interesting mathematical questions
  • Much of the challenge of our classrooms and ost spaces is how to answer questions we dont know the answer to. How do we allow things to bubble up
  • That’s the divergent approach
  • For flagway, there is a parent child relationship. You start at the center dot, and after this first choice you can decide red, yellow, or blue again and again
  • And to address the question, was the order of the colors different?
  • The answer is yes; this is in one way a graph of every single possibility of these combinations
  • Every way you can order red yellow and blue
  • This process also takes away the unit/counting thinking in math, (there are other processes that help your brain think of units in length) because it structures your thinking differently.
  • OK, now introduce the number 3 , 5 7 , 8, 9 and 10 into this mix
  • Could be primes, cubed, and other
  • Could be something about running around so we were just preparing to deal with the repercussions of this physical activity. Whats the path of least resistance?
  • So ordered by simple equations
  • Could be primes coded red. Then we got really analytical and didn’t move from there.
  • Ok now we’ll play in a different way with just 2 4 and 6. But first we played for a long time by just giving students the rules, but the real process have come up from letting kids figure out the rules. Because that is a process for people. People get frustrated when the answer doesn’t come right away
  • That’s where the math is in this game
  • The pressure of not knowing has helped kids that are really frustrated engaged, because the game is not to know
  • The aim of the game is to get students to want to know where the numbers go; it’s a puzzle at the beginning
  • I was expecting addition somewhere, but this is about placement
  • Students spend a lot of time with addition. And young children have lots of time to think about additive thinking
  • And by third grade they are into multiplication, and you need that in order to do fractions and algebra
  • But you get to 9th grade and kids still can’t multiply
  • So there’s no addition, but there’s lots of multiplication
  • And to see it you have to keep getting deeper in your observation as you play
  • So if we were competing, how would we know the winners and losers?
  • Each team would have different flags, so one version is timed — which team gets most flags down correctly and you can play with numbers up to 100 and the game allows you to see the mistake
  • There are other versions as well
  • Up to ten, one of the groups did get it (Primes, cubed, and those not prime or composite of cubes/squares) but rules like this only work up to certain numbers
  • So let’s look at a beautiful math question: Will two yellow numbers become blue? This points to developing number sense
  • The answer is yes but why?
  • Question: When I was watching the video, the students were diverse both racially and by gender. How is YPP overcoming stereotype challenge?
  • YPP is part of an NSF INCLUDES grant to think about this
  • Lots of conversations haven’t brought this up at the high and college students, but what does become important is making sure that high school and college students have the same background as the lower grade levels
  • Low income and mostly white communities, and urban students of color (primarily lower income but not always)
  • They hope to have a flagway tournament every year

Ani Martinez

Written by

Field Director, Remake Learning Network

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