Two Saskatchewan educators are exploring the relationship between reconciliation and learning in a place some students dread: math class.
Sharon Meyer, First Nations and Métis education consultant for the North East School Division, and Glen Aikenhead, a researcher in math and science education, say they have found that students don’t respond as much to mathematics as other subjects, in part because math lacks any kind of culture they can connect with.
Meyer and Aikenhead have come together to create and implement a one-year project called Culture-Based Mathematics for Reconciliation for Professional Development.
At schools in Carrot River, Sask., which is about 250 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon, you now might see a teacher using drumming to teach sequencing, or a class making bannock without measure tools.
The work is funded by the McDowell Foundation, which supports research within the Saskatchewan education system.
Meyer said many teachers within the system want to work toward reconciliation, but find roadblocks in their own understanding of Indigenous culture. They can be fearful of offending someone or teaching the students incorrectly.
“A lot of them feel uncomfortable, so that’s why they reached out to me,” she said.
Meyer and Aikenhead looked to places like Alaska, Hawaii and New Zealand, which have incorporated Indigenous culture into math class with great success.
“If your goal is to raise math scores, this turns out to be a way for achieving it,” said Glen Aikenhead.
“Math courses are the worst at keeping students from graduating from high school.”
Meyer wanted to see a change in teachers and how they implement Indigenous lessons and images into their teaching.
“I had some teachers develop a dream catcher and asked them to use their math minds and their math experience to decide how to use this dream catcher in their math teaching,” she said.
Aikenhead said his research found that approximately 74 per cent of those who find mathematics challenging say that the dry, non-cultural nature of the subject makes it hard to relate to.
Implementing culturally-strengthened math teachings may be important, but it can be hard to execute due to what Aikenhead calls a “crowded curriculum.”
“The curriculum needs to be assessed and have this knowledge introduced and that is at the expense of getting rid of what some people would call obsolete math.”
While some people excel in that version of mathematics, they are in the minority, he said.
“The students become really engaged in the Indigenous mathematizing,” Aikenhead said.
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