Edd Taylor Finds Religion Can Be a Plus for Math Learning

Edd Taylor Finds Religion Can Be a Plus for Math Learning

Edd Taylor
Do everyday religious practices offer a way for children to learn mathematics? Assistant professor Edd Taylor’s current research investigates religious practices — specifically, tithing — in relation to mathematical thinking. 

“I wanted to better understand the relationship between our everyday uses of mathematics and domains of mathematical knowledge valued in classrooms,” he says.

In a study of 24 families, Taylor researched whether children who tithe, or give 10 percent of their income to the church, develop an understanding of rational numbers such as percents, fractions and ratios. He examined whether tithing provided an opportunity to develop math understandings and how cultural/social factors influenced the development of these understandings.

His preliminary finding is that children showed good mathematical understanding when they were tithing. In fact, they exhibited better problem solving and better understanding of rational numbers when computing a tithe than when they were solving similar math problems in school. “Children did much, much better in the tithing context,” he says.

In tithing, children must determine tithability (the amount that qualifies for tithing) and also calculate the tithe. By observing their practices and analyzing data, Taylor used mixed methods to examine how students approached problem solving when they were tithing.

Taylor uncovered similar findings in a comparable study of how students from a lower-income African-American community develop mathematical understandings while making purchasing in corner stores. Children showed a variety of mathematical understandings, such as of place value, in their use of money at stores. Interestingly, when the children were tested on these same concepts in the classroom, they demonstrated significantly less proficiency.

As a result, Taylor is interested in studying how to draw from out-of-school contexts to apply to learning in the school context. He also emphasizes the importance of using assessment tools that consider a student’s knowledge base.

Overall, Taylor’s current research focuses on issues of equity in mathematics education as they relate to understanding the relationship between culture and mathematical cognition. His research links culture and mathematical thinking as he studies informal learning as well as school mathematics instruction.

Taylor presented his research on tithing at a Learning Sciences brown bag talk entitled “Surely Temples Matter: Opportunities to Engage in Mathematical Problem Solving in a Religious Community.”

Like many other faculty members and students in the Learning Sciences program at SESP, he looks at how learning is shaped by the shared understandings of one’s culture. “It’s very difficult to separate issues of culture and learning,” Taylor says.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 7/27/17