The Gatekeeper

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There is a math crisis in America. By middle school, two-thirds of our students will fall behind grade level in their math classes. By high school graduation, fewer than half will be prepared for college-level courses. And yet, success in math remains a powerful gatekeeper–the door not only to coursework and college but also careers in science, medicine, technology, and engineering. Equally powerful is the myth that math skills are fixed and inborn: the idea, persistent across decades, that some students are good at math, and that those who aren’t can’t be taught.The film takes aim at this belief, asking why so little progress has been made to make even basic math accessible to all students. Drawing on the innovative ideas of experts like Stanford professor Jo Boaler, civil rights leader Dr. Robert Moses, UC Berkeley Professor Alan Schoenfeld, DePaul University Professor Akihito Takahashi, and Mills College Professor Catherine Lewis, the film examines how our traditional approach to math education favors rote performance over problem-solving and imitation over creativity–even among high-achieving students.

Beyond examining the roots of our math crisis, The Gatekeeper follows the stories of passionate educators who are working to create more engaging, effective and equitable methods for teaching math. It creates a vivid portrait of what powerful math classrooms look and sound like, and it advocates for change through the use of success stories and collaboration rather than critique.

By shining a spotlight on the groundbreaking work being done by bold educators across the country, The Gatekeeper points us toward a new reality: a classroom where every student can succeed at math.

Directed by Vicki Abeles

“Making this film convinced us that math is key to economic, gender, and racial equity in the United States, and also crucial to developing independent, critical thinkers across professions who are able to fully participate in our democracy.” 
– Vicki Abeles, Director

THOUGHT LEADERS

Jo Boaler
A professor of mathematics education at Stanford University, and the faculty director of youcubed, she authored Experiencing School Mathematics which won the “Outstanding Book of the Year” award for education in Britain.

Robert Moses
An American educator and civil rights activist, known for his work during the Civil Rights Movement. Moses developed the nationwide Algebra Project, which emphasizes teaching algebra skills to minority students based on broad-based community organizing and collaboration.

Steven Levitt
The William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, he directs the Becker Center on Chicago Price Theory. He co-authored Freakonomics, which spent over 2 years on the New York Times Best Seller list.

Julia Angwin
An award-winning investigative journalist and editor-in-chief of The Markup, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates the impacts of technology on society, she is also an author of several books.

Karim Ani
A former middle school teacher and math coach, he is the founder of Citizen Math, an online math platform that supplements math lessons for grades 6-12. Ani’s goal is to provoke questions, spark conversations and activate young minds.

Roger Antonsen
A logician, mathematician, computer scientist, author, public speaker, science communicator, and artist, he is an Associate Professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of Oslo, and a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley, California, ICERM, and Brown University.

Nancy Blachman
The president and founder of Variable Symbols, a company that specializes in consulting and training in technical software, in the nineties she taught CS 50 “Problem Solving with Mathematica,”at Stanford University. She has written several tutorial books to assist people in using mathematical software.

Ben Blum-Smith
Founder of Blum-Smith Mathematics, where he tutors math and also leads workshops designed to make the delight of math accessible to a wider audience. Blum-Smith has given lectures and mini-courses at the New York Math Circle, Math for America, Bard College, and the Little Red Schoolhouse/Elizabeth Irwin Summer Institute.

Erika Bullock
An Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education and Curriculum Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, her research agenda consists of two key segments: conceptualizing urban mathematics education and historicizing issues in mathematics education.

Dr. Eugenia Cheng
A mathematician, educator, author, public speaker, and early pioneer of math on YouTube. She has authored several books, including How to Bake Pi, Beyond Infinity and x + y : A Mathematician’s Manifesto for Rethinking Gender.

Keith Devlin
A British mathematician and popular science writer, he is currently the Director of the Stanford Mathematics Outreach Project in the Graduate School of Education, a co-founder and Executive Director Emeritus of the university’s H-STAR institute, a co-founder of the Stanford mediaX research network, and a Senior Researcher Emeritus at CSLI.

Jordan Ellenberg
Jordan Ellenberg is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He is also a Discovery Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, where he is part of the Machine Learning group and the Institute for Foundations of Data Science. He is the author of How Not to Be Wrong.

Daniel Finkel
Founded Math for Love where he develops math games and curriculum, trains teachers, and produces professional learning materials. His goal is to give everyone the chance to fall in love with mathematics.

Maisie Gholson
After teaching high school mathematics, she now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan School of Education. Within a Black feminist framework, Gholson’s research studies identities and relational ties to mathematics, peers, and teachers.

Rochelle Gutierrez
A professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Education, her scholarship focuses on issues of identity and power in mathematics education, paying particular attention to how race, class, and language affect teaching and learning.

Francis Su
A Professor of Mathematics at Harvey Mudd College and a former president of the Mathematical Association of America, his book Mathematics for Human Flourishing, is an inclusive vision of what math is, who it’s for, and why anyone should learn it.

Catherine Lewis
The director of Lesson Study research projects and is a senior research scientist at Mills College, she is the author of more than 40 publications on elementary education and child development, including the award-winning book Educating Hearts and Minds: Reflections on Japanese Preschool and Elementary Education.

Danny Martin
Professor of Education and Mathematics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Dr. Martin’s research has focused primarily on understanding the salience of race and identity in Black learners’ mathematical. He is author of Mathematics Success and Failure Among African Youth and co-author of The Impact of Identity in K–8 Mathematics Learning and Teaching.

Dan Meyer
A math teacher and advocate for better math instruction. After earning his doctorate from Stanford University in math education, he became the Chief Academic Officer at Desmos where he explores the future of math, technology, and learning.

Laura Overdeck
Chair of the Overdeck Family Foundation and the Founder and President of Bedtime Math, a nonprofit that ignites kids’ curiosity and learning by unleashing the fun in math, she serves on the advisory boards of Khan Academy, Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY), Stevens Institute of Technology, and Governor’s School of New Jersey.

Ellen Peters
The director of the Center for Science Communication Research at the University of Oregon School of Communication and Journalism. She is an academic expert in decision making and the science of science communication and is the author of Innumeracy in the Wild: Misunderstanding and Misusing Numbers.

Emmanuel Schanzer
After spending several years as a program manager and developer before becoming a public high school teacher and middle school academic coach in Boston, he is now the founder and co-director of Bootstrap, a forum for teachers around the world to share and develop their math curriculum.

Alan Schoenfeld
An Affiliated Professor of Mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley, he served as president of AERA and vice president of the National Academy of Education, and he holds several awards given to a pure or applied mathematician for distinguished contributions to the mathematical education of K-16 students.

Akihiko Takahashi
An associate professor of mathematics education at DePaul University in the United States, a Honorary Reader of University College London, and a Researcher at Tokyo Gakugei University in Tokyo Japan. During his teaching career, he was nationally active in mathematics Lesson Study in Japan, and continues to support and advocate for Lesson Study in the United States and throughout the world.

Talithia Williams
An associate professor of Mathematics at Harvey Mudd University who is renowned for her popular TED Talk, “Own Your Body’s Data“, Dr. Williams takes sophisticated numerical concepts and makes them understandable to a wide audience.