Jessica LeePOV’s Community Outreach and Education department participates in a range of conferences and workshops throughout the year. In an effort to explore using media in classrooms — even those where you might not expect to — Jessica Lee and Irene Villaseñor attended the Radical Math conference at Long Island University in Brooklyn, NY last week. Jessica reports that the event was a great success.

Last week, Irene Villaseñor and I presented a workshop at Radical Math’s Creating Balance in an Unjust World conference. Radical Math is the brainchild of educator Jonathan Osler, who, in 2006, started the website as a way to encourage and support math teachers who wanted to incorporate issues of economic and social justice into their curriculum. The conference was attended by nearly 400 people from 26 states and 37% of its workshops were facilitated by youth.

Since math isn’t exactly the most obvious subject to be showcased in a social issue documentary series, it was very heartening that the conference organizers accepted our workshop proposal. Their decision reflects a positive trend: more and more educators are looking to engage their students by using media in their classrooms — and they look to programs like POV to help them make that transition.

Though math isn’t really an overt element in many of our films, we have broadcast many films that showcase injustice. In the Community Engagement and Education Department, we want educators to be able to use our films as examples of academic concepts embodied in real life. Irene and I decided to show our workshop participants clips from Roger Weisberg‘s documentary Waging a Living (POV 2006), which is about hard-working Americans struggling to make a living wage. Irene and I showed clips from the film and presented the companion lesson plan and discussion guide. Given that we’re not math teachers, we wanted to give the group ample time to brainstorm with each other. In our department, we strongly believe that organizers, educators and those who borrow our films know their constituencies best and like to think of ourselves as a resource that can help meet community needs. As we were getting breakout groups together, one teacher said, “I think this would be a great introduction to algebra for my students. Does anyone want to talk about how we can use the film to talk about algebra?” Several teachers joined her group and they began a lively discussion on how concrete mathematical skills could be drawn out while still emphasizing the film’s social justice message.

It’s easy to assume that social issue media might be better matched to subjects like Language Arts and Social Studies, but the enthusiasm that we saw at the Radical Math conference proves that there is a diverse group of educators out there willing to further develop their teaching techniques and expand their repertoire. It’s a natural fit for our films, too — in a sense, it’s a pretty logical idea. Documentary filmmakers are educators, illuminating information deemed relevant and necessary, and they want audiences to learn something new each time they tune in. And it’s fun for us to be part of process, too!

Towards the end of the session, Irene and I walked around and introduced ourselves individually to teachers. One woman told me she was a curriculum developer, and that she thought using Waging a Living would be especially helpful for teaching mathematical concepts to some of her adult special ed classes. And then she mentioned that her husband was one of the co-directors that made American Tongues — POV’s inaugural film in 1988! Her comment made me realize that the idea of community engagement and education around films didn’t really exist as a fleshed out idea when POV first aired 21 years ago. In a sense, it’s almost too logical an idea. Documentary filmmakers are educators, illuminating information deemed relevant and necessary; they want audiences to learn something new each time they tune in.–>