Integrating Math with First Nations, Metis & Inuit Students

Integrating Math with First Nations, Metis & Inuit Students

The dominant ways in which math has always been taught in our Western society includes drill, rote learning, and a focus on math ‘authorities’ including the teacher.
This poses very serious problems for many of our mathematical learners, particularly for our First Nations, Metis & Inuit (FNMI) learners, whose perspectives and ways of knowing may not be included in the traditional curricular frameworks. Therefore, we are faced with very serious issues when it comes to considering who gets to learn math, and who will be included.
Math that is inclusive of different cultures and ways of knowing the world, is built on the awareness that math itself is about knowing the world. It is my view that we as teachers can do many wonderful things in the classroom to integrate basic skills with constructivist and culturally responsive ways of teaching math that will support multiple ways of knowing – particularly for students who are FNMI.

My Inquiry

How do we use strategies and approaches that both facilitate learning in math, AND infuse FNMI ways of knowing? We start by recognizing the importance of connections, communication and contextualization of the learning of FNMI students.
What strategies help to infuse FNMI ways of knowing, perspectives and content?

Action Plan

The following strategies comprise my action plan for integrating FNMI ways of knowing, perspectives and content into the Math Curriuclum.
First, recognize that students learn by attaching meaning to what they do. Students need to construct their own meaning of mathematics.
2. Integrate Inquiry Based Learning into math. Check out the following website from OISE on Inquiry in Math. 
3. Provide holistic learning experiences.  This includes cultural and social interactions through dialogue, language and negotiations of meaning.  This would include allowing other students, community leaders, Elders, Senatorsand other diverse resources to teach, facilitate, share and learn in our classroom.
4. It is impossible to isolate math from culture. It is important to strive to help change mindsets about what ‘real’ math is. Ask ourselves questions including is math about making financial transactions? Is it about complex beading, knitting, or making intricate porcupine quill boxes? Are our cultural routines linked to math? Become aware of how math is linked with culture.
5. Aim to create equal opportunities for Math learning for Aboriginal students. However, exercising caution not to merely integrate holidays, artifacts, stories and more merely as a form of ‘tokenism’. Also, exercising caution not to make FNMI students solely responsible for adding culture and learning to the math classroom.
6. Engage in Culturally Responsive Teaching of mathematics. When we don’t include culture in math, we are essentially positioning people ‘outside’ of math. Serious implications thus arise as FNMI students are at a greater risk of being forced into negative math mindsets and math deficiencies. Culturally responsive teaching is about understanding surrounding communities, and making the program ‘Student-Centered’.
7. Step outside of traditional curriculum frameworks. Not Big ideas and high expectations, but the pedagogical frameworks. When we try to add culture, content, perspectives and ideas to math, we can change the traditional curriculum frameworks. Mathematical learning that incorporates FNMI perspectives, content and ways of knowing, should not be an add-on. We need to make sure that we change our traditional frameworks lest we inadvertently continue to promote the ‘othering’ and exclusion from math.
Deborah McCallum


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