Teaching Mathematics

As a math major, I love talking about ways we can teach math within the classroom. I’m very passionate about ensuring all students can understand their mathematical potential because every student has that potential. If someone is telling them otherwise, then the students need to understand that it is not true– there are other ways they can interpret, learn, and solve mathematical problems, they just need to be given the opportunity.

Math is what we focused on if you couldn’t already tell. We looked at two articles: Jagged Worldviews Colliding by Leroy Little Bear, and Teaching Mathematics and the Inuit Community by Louise Poirier. My profs asked me to answer these prompts; First, think back on my experiences of the teaching and learning of math, and were there aspects of it that were oppressive and/or discriminating for you or other students; Second, identify at least three ways in which Inuit mathematics challenge Eurocentric ideas about purposes and the way we learn mathematics.

In the Little Bear article, there was a quote that stuck out to me; “One of the problems with colonialism is that it tries to maintain a singular social order by means of force and law, suppressing the diversity of human worldviews.” This immediately made me think of the Common Core Standards, which is a set of standards in curricula in the United States that was developed by none other than Bill Gates. Basically, all the standards for English and Math curricula are the same for almost all the states in America. There is no individualism or room for change. Having such a strict and succinct curriculum means that it’s harder to integrate other ways of teaching math in the classroom. In my EMTH class, we promote problem-solving in math classes because problem-solving has been proven to increase learning and understanding of math. However, with Common Core Standards and a Eurocentric society, instead of allowing problem-solving where students have the opportunity to freely solve without limitations, students have to follow the “one right way” to solve math. I think this is the most oppressive way to teach math, and this is something that occurs commonly in schools.

In my school, teachers commonly stood at the front of the class and wrote notes that we were expected to write. We were always told by our teachers that they aren’t writing on the board because they’re bored, they’re doing it because we have to as well. I think this way of teaching math led to fewer and fewer students understanding the concepts of math. They were getting instrumental understandings, which means that they were commonly given mathematic rules without reason. Don’t question the math and how it works–it just does. This way of teaching math leads to students thinking they are mathematical people.

Regarding the second prompt, one way that Inuit mathematics challenges Eurocentric mathematics is their base-number system. While we use a ten-base number system (0-9, and then repeat with 10-19, and so on), Inuit people use a twenty-base number system. When I first heard this, I could understand the logic (we have ten fingers, ten toes), but I couldn’t actually think of how I could go about solving math this way. It still hurts my brain to think about. Because I had been taught with a ten-base number system since before I can remember, switching to another base and doing all my math in that base seems so complicated. This is an example of Inuit mathematics challenging Eurocentric mathematics. Another would be spatial learning. Again, many of us were taught math in a very oppressive way where we were expected to give answers and show our work. In Inuit culture, solving questions spatially proved to be beneficial in learning, but our curriculum makes problem-solving restrictive. Finally, one that really stuck out was that Elders refrained from calling on students who didn’t know the answer. It is common for teachers to call on students that don’t know the answer, whether it be to teach the student a lesson in learning and listening or to introduce a new mathematical concept. My dad did that once to me, he knew I wouldn’t know an answer in math class so he got me to try and answer it so he could teach us a new mathematical idea. I remembered the concept, don’t get me wrong, but teaching through embarrassment is something that should be avoided, and is another concept that is challenged through Inuit mathematics.

Side-note: if you are interested in reading more about Common Core Standards, click here to read my blog about the issues.

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