Shelly M. Jones, "Women Who Count: Honoring African American Women Mathematicians" (American Mathematical Society, 2019)


African-Americans and women are increasingly visible in professional mathematical institutions, organizations, and literature, expanding our mental models of the mathematics community. Yet early representation also matters: We begin building these models as soon as we begin seeing and doing mathematics, and they can be slow to adapt. In her wonderful activity book Women Who Count: Honoring African American Women Mathematicians (MAA Press, 2019), Dr. Shelly Jones invites children, and their parents and educators, to immerse themselves in the lives and deeds of Black women mathematicians.

The 29 profiles trace back to "the Firsts" in their fields, such as early PhD awardee Evelyn Boyd Granville; the "Pioneers" of emerging fields and programs, including ethnomathematics co-founder Gloria Gilmer; through "Unhidden Figures" like Dorothy Johnson Vaughan of recent biopic fame; and to "Contemporary Firsts" who are living, working, and opening new doors today. Along with their mathematical contributions, Dr. Jones shares details of these mathematicians' early lives, their hobbies and interests, and how they have been shaped by and in turn shaped their communities. Each mini-biography introduces a whole person whom readers new to mathematics can relate to and be inspired by.

Each profile is accompanied by a pencil-and-paper activity that brings to life the some part of their story. Some are classics, including word searches and I-Spy, while others introduce readers to mathematical and educational concepts explored by their subjects—coloring tessellations, for example, or solving equations to decode messages. The text and activities are targeted to grades 3–8, and are ideal for elementary and middle school classrooms.

In our conversation, Dr. Jones described how she conceived the book, assembled the stories and activities, and connected with illustrator Veronica Martins. I came away with a richer perspective on the state of the field for aspiring mathematicians—in addition to a perfect gift for my second-grade nephew.

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Dr. Shelly M. Jones is a Professor of Mathematics Education at Central Connecticut State University. She has been an educator for 30 years and currently teaches undergraduate mathematics content and methods courses for pre-service teachers as well as graduate level mathematics content, curriculum and STEM courses for in-service teachers. Dr. Jones serves her community by working with various professional and community organizations. You can see her CCSU TEDx talk on YouTube where she talks about culturally relevant mathematics. She is also a contributing author to The Brilliance of Black Children in Mathematics: Beyond the Numbers and Toward a New Discourse and co-author of Engaging in Culturally Relevant Math Tasks: Fostering Hope.

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Cory Brunson

Cory Brunson is an Assistant Professor at the Laboratory for Systems Medicine at the University of Florida. His research focuses on geometric and topological approaches to the analysis of medical and healthcare data.

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