The purpose of this assignment is to have you reect on the role of community, identity, and culture in both the creation and learning of mathematics. Begin by reading the blurbs below. The instructions and writing prompt will follow.
READING 1: From page vi of the preface in Barta, James, et al. “Math is a verb: Activities and lessons from cultures around the world.” Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2014.
Traditionally, mathematics has been described as a universal language, and to a degree this is true. However, it may be more useful to think of mathematics as a language composed of a variety of dialects we use as we think, communicate, and evaluate data to solve the unique problems faced in each of our communities. Of course, people in every community add, subtract, multiply, and divide, but exactly how we do this varies broadly because of the influence of culture on naming, thinking, and doing. When we embrace a more multicultural understanding of mathematics, we see how the mathematics of today has evolved from many cultures’ contributions from across the planet and throughout time. Mathematics is not a subject that is fixed, rigid, and fully developed; it is instead a process that in many ways continues to evolve and that possesses life, animation, and applicability as it remains responsive to those who name it and use it. This perspective alone suggests that children can learn mathematics more effectively if they are taught in ways that provide relevance and meaning, while also respecting and validating the communities and cultures the children represent.
READING 2: From page 3 in Barta, James, et al. “Math is a verb: Activities and lessons from cultures around theworld.” Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2014.
Alan Bishop, noted ethnomathematician, has suggested that people across the world and throughout time have used mathematics to count, measure, design, locate, explain, and play (Bishop 1988). These six universal actions can be used to investigate the math in what people do, how they live, what they build, and where they live. These universals make apparent the mathematics of an activity, object, or action as the reciprocal interaction of mathematics and the culture. Mathematics becomes best understood by how it is used. Similar activities are practiced by many diverse cultures, and so we are witness to a countless variety of possible solutions to a problem.
READING 3: From page 1-2 in Barta, James, et al. “Math is a verb: Activities and lessons from cultures around theworld.” Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2014.
Traditionally, mathematics has been considered a subject one studied in school to learn and practice procedures using numbers and symbols written as algorithms. Mathematics is too often presented as a set of static, unchanging rules developed by ancient people with no connection to current problem solving… Some researchers suggest that many students, and in particular many minority students, believe that mathematics has been developed and is owned by a community they are not a part of (Barta, Cuch, and Exton 2012). Gaps in achievement scores have been tied to this disconnect between students in certain communities and how they view and experience what they consider to be another group’s mathematics. Rather than focusing on gaps in achievement, we suggest a part of the problem is related to gaps in opportunities for all students to learn mathematics in ways they see as relevant to their identities and communities… Mathematics is best understood as we experience its application within the cultures and contexts in which it is applied. Everyone in the world is similar in that we all have a spoken language through which we communicate thoughts and ideas. Within this similarity, however, are unique differences shaped and de ned by culture and communicated through the diverse vocabulary, syntax, and semantics of each language. Mathematics too is a language comprised of many dialects|dialects that denote diverse communities using mathematics.
READING 4: From page 4 in Barta, James, et al. “Math is a verb: Activities and lessons from cultures around theworld.” Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2014.
Intentional intelligence and use is our last theme, and it serves to debunk the oft-presented notion that people in society who employ informal applications of mathematics (that is, out-of-school applications of mathematical principles and concepts) are seldom aware of what they are doing or why they use a particular concept or strategy. We instead explain such intentionality as the purposeful application of mathematical intelligence to challenge an issue or solve a problem. Such informal applications show the conscious use of one’s intelligence to seek a solution, complete a real-life task, or solve a problem in the community. Intentionality requires that teachers become more sophisticated in the examples they use when illustrating culture in the mathematics classroom. Occasionally a “tourist approach” has been used in mathematics classrooms. As children study some faraway country, word problems describe the food, object, or clothes of the day–i.e., Jaime has three sombreros and Louisa has two more. How many sombreros do they have together at the fiesta? It is not impossible for a sombrero or a fiesta to provide numerous connections to study mathematics while illustrating a culture. However, when used as in the above example, the object or activity presented adds little to our understanding of either mathematics or the culture. We could have selected virtually any two objects in our attempt to teach children the concept. Intentionality provides us with a better understanding of how the person using the mathematics was thinking of it, and we begin to develop a more accurate understanding of the cultural traditions, values, and meanings inherent in the object or activity
ASSIGNMENT and INSTRUCTIONS
Reflect on your experiences learning math topics. Based on your math history, have you felt more like you were learning another community’s language and math principles? Have you more felt like math belonged to you and your community? Or have you generally felt like the mathematics you were learning had no connection to community or culture at all? Give an example to explain your answer.
Have you ever encountered a word problem in a standardized test or math class that didn’t make sense because you had no experience or way to relate to the situation (i.e. postal stamps, train travel, or the stock market)? If YES, describe how you felt and how you dealt with that particular problem/topic.
Bonus: Should math classes include context? Is there value in learning about the people who created a mathematical principle and how they used it? Give examples of mathematics in the context of a specific culture that you think should be included in K-12 or college classes, OR explain why your think context is not relevant/appropriate for a math class.