Culture within math

1. At the beginning of the reading, Leroy Little Bear (2000) states that colonialism “tries to maintain a singular social order by means of force and law, suppressing the diversity of human worldviews. … Typically, this proposition creates oppression and discrimination” (p. 77). Think back on your experiences of the teaching and learning of mathematics — were there aspects of it that were oppressive and/or discriminating for you or other students?

In many of the classes it was easy to see that there was a clear line between the students excelling in math and those who were not. There were many times throughout elementary and high school that I was being taught math to pass the test rather than have a strong understanding. My classes were focused on testing as assessment, and the goal was to have enough information to pass the test. There were very few accommodations for students who struggled taking tests, but the classes were made with the ‘good student’ in mind. Math, especially in elementary school, was not integrated into any other class. This could be because we had EA in the classroom during math or it could be that the teachers did not think we were capable of understanding math without doing it the traditional way.  Math is everywhere but we did not apply it outside of math class.

Within grade 9, all students across the city are forced to take grade 9 mathematics in English, which for many is fine but there were a few French Immersion students that have never had an English math class. Many of these students were confused by terminology because it was different than they were used to. We had a large immigrate population, mainly from the Philippians. Many of the students were placed into workplace math because it was perceived as easier even though it was based on word problems.

I can remember my grade 7 math teacher saying that “math is universal” and it will look the same where every you go but that is not true. He was trying to get the idea that BEDMAS is a technique that is used all over the world but it is not the same in every place.

  1. After reading Poirier’s article: Teaching mathematics and the Inuit Community, identify at least three ways in which Inuit mathematics challenge Eurocentric ideas about the purposes mathematics and the way we learn it.

1. Eurocentric math uses base 10 reference while Inuit mathematics uses base 20. “The Inuit have a base-20 numeral system” (Poirier, L. pg.57). It was not until I was in university that I learned about cultures having different base systems, within my math course I able to learn about a few but I had no idea. The only other base I had ever heard of was binary for coding computers.

2. Measurements are based on body parts of a particular person within Inuit culture. This reminded me of how the measurement of a foot was the actual measurement of the king’s foot, so it would change when there was a new king. Though this style of measurement is easier for a student to understand, it is not consistent.

3. Their teaching methods work toward the students rather than working toward the test or government curriculum. It is cool to see that Inuit people have started to lean toward our European ways of teaching math, as some teachers in Canada are wanting to become problem solving teachers, which allow students to discover and watch rather than giving them explanations.

Mathematics is the sense you never knew you had | Eddie Woo


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