After reading this week’s assigned readings and viewing regarding Curriculum as Numeracy, my thoughts immediately went to the cultural diversity that exists in our school systems. It made me think of my future classroom and the possibility that an Inuit student from Nunavik, (as discussed in “Teaching mathematics and the Inuit community” by Louise Poirier) might one day be sitting in one of the desks in my classroom.
As the immigrant population is steadily increasing in Saskatchewan, Regina is definitely becoming a melting pot of cultures. In fact, according to research documented regarding the English as a Second Language (EAL) program in Regina, I was surprised to read, “At the start of the 2018-19 school year, there were nearly 4,700 students whose first language was not English. That’s grown from 1,560 EAL students in 2012 to now representing about one fifth of the 24,000 students in Regina’s public school system.” This number represents “118 countries and 121 different languages” (Shepherd).
These statistics are staggering and justify why upcoming teachers need to be cognizant of the fact that learning styles and understandings might conflict even in subjects where “two plus two equals four” (Poirier, 54). Not that teachers would do this intentionally, but I have to admit that it would be easy to assume a superior Eurocentric mindset of ‘your way is the only way.’ Changing our lens of perspective and recognizing that this wide diversity exists, even from Canadian students as close as the northern part of Quebec, is imperative.
The statements by Leroy Little Bear, “Language embodies the way a society thinks. Through learning and speaking a particular language, an individual absorbs the collective thought processes” (78) resonate with me. Relating this to my math schooling, I recollect my Grade 7 math teacher who, in a matter-of-fact way, announced the first day of math class that she refused to use the commercial program Math Makes Sense but instead would be using resources that she personally created. She continued to say that she did not agree with the approaches set forth in this program and that discovery-based math does not produce mathematicians. That year, I absorbed her “language” of math and pushed aside the last three years of being immersed in Math Makes Sense methodology and went back to the basics. Without a doubt, I connected to her math “language” and learned more that year than I did any other year. Her methodology and “language” is the reason why I love math today and wanted (past tense) to become a math teacher. Fast forward to Math 221 – Introduction to Proofs and Problem Solving at the University of Regina. Up until this class, I was all gung-ho to be a math teacher and then the “language” of my prof squashed my desire. He taught the class with one mindset…his way or no way. I remember standing in his office, trying to get math clarification on a problem where I ended up with the same answer but just generated the answer using a different approach. His words linger in my subconscious, “Your way is wrong.” “You will never get math.” and “Even if you work for it, you will fail.” Just because my way, wasn’t his way, I was considered a failure. Needless to say, I am proud to say that I didn’t fail that class but it did; however, affect my desire to become a math teacher. Language…what you say when you teach a concept, and language…what you say when you talk to your students, definitely does impact “thought processes of people” (Little Bear, 78).
After reading Poirier’s article, “Teaching Mathematics and the Inuit Community,” there are ways in which Inuit mathematics challenge Eurocentric ideas. One such way is how western civilization pedagogy is to approach teaching primarily on a theoretical level where knowledge is separated into isolated compartments rather than showing the interrelatedness to the real world. These “paper-and-pencil exercises are not based on the ‘natural’ ways of learning of Inuit children. Traditional Inuit teaching is based on observing an elder or listening to enigmas” (55). One domain is “localization: the exploration of one’s spatial environment and the symbolization of that environment with the help of models, diagrams, drawings, words, or other means” (56). Reading the snow banks and assessing the direction of the winds is a great example of another way to look at perimeter, area, and volume. Whereas, we have been taught the numerical values; they internalize the mathematical concepts through every part of their senses.
The second domain is “counting: the systematic use of methods to compare and order sets of objects” (56). European cultures use a base 10 incorporating the numerals 0 through 9 in different combinations to represent the desired number. Whereas, the Inuit uses a base 20 approach where they assign 20 different symbols or characters to represent the base combinations.
The third domain is “measuring: the use of objects or measuring tools to quantify dimensions” (56). Measuring objects with their body parts shows the importance of how math is related to their own personal space and experiences. By incorporating their body parts into measurement, they come to understand more about reality, culture, society, and themselves. Another example of measurement is measuring calendar months by events occurring in nature, with September being the duration it takes the caribou to lose the velvet from its antlers. I find this very intriguing. This connection to nature is significant because it is repeatable every year, at the same time, and supports the fact that mathematics should be discovered, not constructed.
I personally find the discussion of mathematical concepts of other cultures very fascinating. Exposing students to a variety of mathematical concepts through the lens of different cultural contexts, not only offers alternative methods of approaching conventional mathematical operations, but it increases one’s social awareness.
Bear, L. L. (2000). Jagged worldviews colliding. In M. Batiste (Ed.), Reclaiming Indigenous voice and vision (pp. 77-85). UBC Press.
Poirier, L. (2007). Teaching mathematics and the Inuit community, Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, 7(1), p. 53-67.
Shepherd, Andrew. “Diversity in the School: The Growth of Regina’s EAL Program.” 980 CJME, 6 Nov. 2018, https://www.cjme.com/2018/11/06/diversity-in-the-school-the-growth-of-reginas-eal-program/.