Math in Appalachia
“When the phone call came, I thought this might be a joke or something,” recalls Dr. Lucas when describing his first encounter with the idea of uncovering perceptions of math and math education in Appalachia. “These folks from Athens (Ohio University) have a consortium of math educators that wanted us to do a folknographic study for them. I must admit that I was complimented and also surprised. I mean, we were going to do a qualitative study about a quantitative science. The whole idea rocked my world!”
“The actual consortium is called ACCLAIM. They have a cool web site and they pledged to pay the expenses of the team. I had done enough of these projects to know that we could recruit the undergraduates to make this happen. I accepted right away,” stated Dr. Lucas.
Dr. Lucas listed the research course in the schedule and fourteen undergraduates took the challenge. The team spent the entire academic quarter training and preparing for the adventure in the mountains of West Virginia. Questions were refined and tested, focus groups were planned, and plenary sessions were outlined. The team trained in observation techniques. The Internal Review Board of Ohio University reviewed the proposal and issued their approval. ACCLAIM approved the proposal for the study and granted the funds for the project. The entire process was exciting for the students and the professor.
This is a benchmark study because it marked the first time that a reputable, outside agency authorized and recognized the use of folknography as an academically accepted method for research. More were to come after this groundbreaking project. Several publications resulted from this cache of data as well.
During the study the weather threw a curve to the research team. Upon arrival of the team to the research site, warm spring breezes blew through the blue-green mountains. Upon awakening, the team found six inches of freshly fallen snow. Once again, the flexibility of folknography paid off and the team adjusted the data collection techniques and continued with progress. The students and the method performed marvelously. “I am happy to declare that this story has a happy ending,” said Dr. Lucas. “The team functioned in a stellar way, the method proved successful again, and we made history, not only in the world of math and math education but also in undergraduate research experiences and in qualitative research events. These are exciting days!”
Another similar project is schedule to occur in the coming months in the Midwest for comparison and contrast purposes. The research will be performed by undergraduate students and folknography will be the method. Watch for more details!