On many occasions I thought about math in art, music, history, and all aspects of life, but it didn’t occur to me to think of math as a cultural experience. As I reflect on my experiences with math, I remember looking at Native American arts and crafts and thinking about the math that went into creating such beauty. I thought about the Egyptians and the pyramids they built and wondered about the math they used to add such precise amazement to the world. I even tell my students, when they question its relevance, that they do math all day every day, but never thought to share their heritage in math.
Ethnomathematics… Who would have thought you could put culture and math together, formally, that is. As long as I had been learning and loving math, I had not thought of math as a multicultural subject. Then I read an article by Ubiratan D’Ambrosio, credited for formulating the word that connects mathematics and culture.
As I read the article I received clarity about my own ideas about teaching and learning mathematics. In order to really accept a concept or acknowledge its importance, some students must have a connection to it. In my experience with teaching mathematics to African American urban youth, I’ve learned that many of them are disconnected from math and therefore, do not feel an allegiance to learning it. Incorporating ethnomathematics into the math curriculum can help connect students to math and encourage them to open up to accepting its importance in our world, beyond the classroom. When incorporating ethnomathematics it’s important to connect the students to their own culture as it relates to math. The student will then gain a better appreciation for math and hopefully become more interested in learning math.
I believe ethnomathematics is a key to making math relevant to my students!