Amazing Stem

Social Justice and Math

Why do we need to learn this? It’s a refrain often sung in math classes across the country. I am always looking for inspiration from the world around us for my lessons. This project idea was inspired by the work of artist Chris Jordan, whose collection “Running the Numbers” ( contains photographic pieces that combine art and statistics to raise awareness about the impact of consumerism. His work made me realize that art and math are powerful tools of communication that are rarely used in conjunction with each other.

Social justice in math is an assessment during the area and volume unit in a high school geometry class. Students are introduced to the work of Chris Jordan and reflect his integration of mathematics and art. I pretend that I am a funding organization issuing a request for proposals from nonprofit organizations who seek to raise awareness of a social issue through an artistic installation representing statistics about their cause. Students choose an issue and work from the perspective of the nonprofit. The final product is their written proposal, which includes a mission statement for their organization and an explanation of the issue referencing researched statistics; and sketches of their design (to scale) from two different perspectives. All relevant calculations of area, volume, and the process of scaling used when creating their design are included in an appendix.

Students have investigated cancer, poverty, obesity, sexual violence, bullying and more. Some displays have been cafeterias filled with fast food containers to represent the number of obese children in the United States, dog cages filled with tennis balls to represent dogs abandoned annually, and  stadiums filled with water bottles. This is an amazing STEM experience because students use math to investigate something they are passionate about and create a unique product that has relevance.


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