Here’s a great article by Lana Gundy. She shares ideas for incorporating creative thinking in your math lessons.
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!
As math education evolves, the teaching methods change to suit the needs of today’s learners. This happens as a result of the research of mathematicians and math educators (sometimes, one in the same) for more effective ways to teach mathematics.
Today’s students are so “right now” that many of them are not really interested in the whys of mathematics. They want the bottom line so they can complete homework assignments or pass tests. Most of my students are not interested in how a formula was derived. They want the formula and they want to know how to apply it. There are rare cases when a student questions a concept and wants to know why it works. In this situation, I take the time to explain the concept and prompt the student to figure it out on their own. Once this is done, the student can relate to the concept and apply it easily, because it now makes sense.
Today, we are all so concerned with following and keeping up with standards, scoring high on standardized tests, and getting students into the next grade by any means necessary, that we do not take the time to implement more meaningful methods of math education into our curricula.
In an ideal education system, secondary students would be separated based on their interest in specific fields (language, science, math, history, etc.). Within that field, the teacher would have the autonomy to structure their courses to strengthen their students’ understanding. In mathematics, this would make room for reinvention based problems that would bring math to life for the students. As a mathematician, I wish everyone could understand mathematics on a higher level. Unfortunately, most students are not interested and some educators are neither equipped nor concerned enough to make such changes in their classrooms, even when the opportunity is present.
As a math educator, I think the concept of reinventing math is brilliant. I believe it would have strengthened my understanding of so many mathematical concepts when I was a student. I believe that math educators should learn math in this manner so that they can be more effective educators. The more we understand a concept (and reinvention can help) the more effective we can teach that concept.
What do you think about reinvention as a method for teaching math?