I really enjoyed having Gale come in and present her views and understandings of mathematics and curriculum as numeracy. I really enjoy her stories of her interactions with other ways of knowing numeracy in terms of Indigenous knowledge. It allowed for me to understand mathematics in a new way that I otherwise would have not engaged with otherwise.
Looking back on my own experience with mathematics, I am able to make connections with what Gale presented us with in terms of different worldviews and ways of knowing. I was never bad at math; in fact I was one of the top math students in my high school classes. However, I never necessarily enjoyed math as a subject. The biggest fault I found with learning math was that there was little open to interpretation. In mathematics, there is a right answer and a wrong answer and one way to get there. As a learner, you work in a way that is best suited to your own needs but in math it is difficult to do so. I had the experience of math being oppressive in this respect. The way the teacher taught you was the way you were required to do it. I was a student who could adapt well, learn quickly, and memorize well. So when we were introduced to formulas and rules, I could pick it up quickly. For those students who were not as fortunate, math became oppressive and challenging. If one were to find a different means to achieve the same end, they were reprimanded. Or if students worked better in their head than on paper, they were deducted marks for not showing their work.
As we discussed in lecture with Gale, mathematics is not simply a one-way street of numbers. Mathematics encompasses patterns and relationships. We are taught to be mainstream in mathematics, to fit within a specific set of rules and regulations. Mathematics becomes oppressive and discriminatory when one tries to step outside of what is seen as normal and right.
Louise Poirier’s article “Teaching Mathematics and the Inuit Community” was a very interesting read in regards to stepping outside of what we consider to be normal in mathematics. As the article points out, we like to think and assume that mathematics is a universal language. No matter where you go in the world, you assume that one means one. What this article does is challenge that notion by challenging the Eurocentric ways of knowing mathematics. In traditional Western ways of knowing, valued is the notion of linear thinking, written knowledge, and rationality. The Inuit communities value different things and therefore have their own way of approaching mathematics. The article identifies several ways in which the ways of knowing differ.
In one instance, the Inuit communities value oral language and subsequently, oral numeration. They learn through oral communication rather than written communication. In their teaching of mathematics, they learn to count using a base-20 system where traditional western ways of thinking use a base-10.
Another difference in ways of knowing occurs when they discuss spatial relations. Traditional western ways of knowing use a set of directions when talking about space and talk in degrees. The directions are distinct and never changing: North, East, South, and West. In the Inuit community, they see spatial relations in a different way. Instead of using European vocabulary, they have their own set of terms for directions and use inuksuit to guide them.
Finally, the article identifies measurement as yet another difference between the two cultures. We measure in a very strict and linear way. If you want to measure length, you use a ruler with a set of numbers. The Inuit communities measure not in units but in terms of parts of the body. One could use the length of their arm as a tool of measurement or their finger. Also, the way they measure their calendars is different than traditional Western thinking. We read our calendar in a linear way. A year is from January to December and then a new year begins. Inuit communities have a cyclical way viewing the passing of months. They focus on natural cycles such as animal behaviours.
Never wrong, only different.
And thank you to Gale Russell for her insightful lecture.
Louise Poirier (2007) Teaching mathematics and the Inuit community, Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, 7:1, 53-67, DOI: 10.1080/14926150709556720