Cultural Influences on Mathematics

Hello everyone!

This week in ECS 210, we had a guest lecturer, Gale, talk to the class about the influence that culture can have on a person’s understanding of mathematics. Now, I was super excited to attend this lecture because I love math, and yes it is my major. I really liked Gale’s lecture because she talked about mathematics in a way that I have not heard before.

Gale went into depth on discussing that people are inheritably mathematical beings. She described two scenarios that showcased children that were not yet in school; in the first case the children were under the age of 2 and in the second case, the children were about 5 years old. In both scenarios, the children were able to comprehend mathematical concepts that are taught to students when they are in elementary school.

Gale also discussed the importance of context in mathematical concepts and the importance of culture on mathematics. One of big topics that she discussed was the importance that language and culture can have on student’s ability to comprehend and understand mathematical concepts. The one example that Gale shared with the class that stuck out to me the most was the example of the Inuit students learning mathematics in traditional Inuit language and then having to take the mathematics test in English. Many of the students did not do well when they were asked to take the test in English, but when the test was taken in the traditional language, students exceeded the average score of non-Inuit students. From thsis example and from reading the articles that were assigned to the class this week, I have learnt a lot about the influence that culture can have on a student’s understanding of mathematics.

This week in ECS 210, we were asked to do two quick readings. The first reading that the class was tasked with reading is by Leroy Little Bear, Jagged Worldviews Colliding. After reading this article, I was tasked with thinking back to my own experiences of being taught and learning mathematics. I was asked to identify if there were aspects of learning mathematics that was oppressive or discriminative to myself or other students.

Mathematics always came easily to me when I was in elementary and high school. All of the math concepts just seemed to click with me in my head. I cannot think of a time that when I was learning mathematics that I felt some aspects were oppressive or discriminative to me. I know that when I was learning mathematics, there was some aspects that I did not like. I remember a time when I was in elementary school, some of the class would learn math with the regular classroom teacher, while a good handful of the class would learn math with the learning resource teacher. I was always frustrated that I did not get this special attention and I was mad that those students were able to learn the ‘easier’ math. Thinking back on this situation now, I can see how this really could have made those students that were pulled out of the classroom feel ostracized and singled out for ‘not being good at math’. Many of these students that were pulled out to do the ‘easier’ mathematics were not the highest achieving students, but I think not pushing the students to learn the same mathematics as the rest of the grade, and instead getting the simplified computational mathematics, was a disservice to them.

In my EMTH 200 class, we have been discussing the importance of teaching student mathematics through problem solving. In EMTH 200, we have also discussed the importance of students having a deep understanding of the mathematical concepts is crucial in mathematics. When students have a deep understanding of a mathematical concept, they actually understand the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of a procedure. When students do not have a deep understanding of a concept or rule, they are simply not plugging in numbers to a formula they do not actually understand how to use; they just know that this is the way that the teacher taught them and they must follow it. Giving students formulas and rules to follow in mathematics is important, but students must understand why, when and how they should use the formula. Simply teaching students how to put numbers into a formula is not really teaching students mathematics, it is instead teaching them memorization and how to pass the test.

After reading the Leory Little Bear’s article, I read Louise Poirier’s article titled Teaching mathematics and the Inuit community. This article focused on ­­how teaching Inuit students mathematics at the Kativik school. After reading this article we were asked to identify at least three ways in which Inuit mathematics challenge Eurocentric ideas about the purposes mathematics and the way we learn it.

While reading this article, I found many ways that Inuit mathematics is different from Western mathematics. First, Inuit mathematics is in base 20, while Eurocentric mathematics is in base 10. The Inuit use base 20 due to having ten fingers and ten toes. Second, I noticed that the Inuit mathematics requires context. The term line in mathematics is translated to English as the “adopted line”. This translation made me turn my head a bit at first, but after Poirier’s explanation about the situation that in the Inuit environment, there are not a lot of straight lines. In Eurocentric mathematics, a ‘line’ is automatically thought of as a straight line, while in Inuit mathematics a ‘line’ is not automatically thought of as straight. The third thing that I noticed from reading this article is that Inuit calendars are very different from Eurocentric calendars. Eurocentric calendars are solely based upon the twelve months, each with specific numbers of days. In contrast, the Inuit calendar also have twelve ‘months’ but each month is based upon how long it takes a natural event to take place, not a set number of days. This can be problematic when trying to teach students calendars in a Eurocentric sense because it is completely different from the Inuit calendars.

Overall, these articles and the lecture by Gale gave me more insight on how culture can effect a student’s understanding of mathematics. Teachers must consider the cultural influences that students may experience.

What are your thoughts on how culture can effect mathematics? Leave a comment below!

Thanks for reading my blog post!

Ashley Osachoff

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One thought on “Cultural Influences on Mathematics

  1. Pingback: ECS 210 – Gerry Can you Please Grade these Blogs | Miss Osachoff's Education Blog

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