Mathematics in Service to the Community is an excellent book for those, like me, who are naïve about what service-learning entails. Hadlock begins by defining service-learning as a set of activities with the following characteristics:
- activities enhance either the delivery or the impact of curricular material, usually, but not always, within the context of a specific course, and
- activities take place within a service framework where additional experience with civic engagement or social contribution will be obtained.
This sounds wonderful, but how does one incorporate service-learning into the mathematics classroom and what are the advantages of doing so? Mathematics in Service to the Community has answers to these questions.
The service-learning mathematical projects described in the book generally fall into three categories:
- mathematical modeling in both elementary and advanced mathematics courses,
- statistics in both introductory and advanced courses, and
- education-related activated for both pre-service teachers and mathematics majors who do not intend to teach mathematics.
Each project is described by the faculty member(s) who facilitated the project. In their summaries the authors illustrate the mathematics used in each project, provide evaluation schemes, and explain how to identify community partners. Furthermore the roles of the students, the faculty member and the community partner are clearly defined. The projects summarized range in mathematical sophistication, but all are equally important and each contributes greatly to the community. As a reader, I found it interesting that service-learning in mathematics is taking place in community colleges as well as research institutions.
A common theme throughout all of the project descriptions is the satisfaction that students feel upon completing their project. Besides having a better understanding of the mathematics taught in their class, they see the usefulness of mathematics and are pleased to have helped someone in the community. The community partners are equally pleased and satisfied with the results. They are very complimentary of the students' work and are anxious to participate in future projects. The service-learning projects also benefit the institutions through grant support, alumni relations, institutional reputation, etc.
Upon reading Mathematics in Service to the Community, I became motivated with the idea of incorporating service-learning into some of the mathematics courses that I teach — knowing that it will take work on my part. If you are interested in integrating service-learning into your class but modeling, statistics or education is not your cup of tea, then you might want to read Hadlock's list of untapped possibilities. He provides a great list of ideas in financial mathematics, organizational management, upper level pure mathematics, geometry and trigonometry. The doors are open to a number of possibilities in service-learning in the mathematical sciences. Your community can help shape and define the path of service-learning in your classroom.
Hortensia "Tensia" Soto-Johnson is an Assistant Professor at the University of Northern Colorado, where she teaches elementary and secondary pre-service teachers. She also mentors mathematics education doctoral candidates. In her spare time, Tensia enjoys reading, practicing yoga, and most importantly spending time with her husband Roger and their son Miguel.