Numeracy Through Different Cultures

My relationship with mathematics has always been a strained one.  I’ve always struggled with the concepts, and never had that natural talent for numbers like some people have.  I think the reasons as to why I have such a distaste for the subject, comes from bad experiences in math classes during my childhood.  Although I was very good at counting, adding and subtracting, I fell behind once I started grade 3 and had to do multiplication and division.  I was not able to grasp the ideas behind multiplying, even though I would spend hours after school with my mom going over the times tables.  Since I struggled and my mind would often wonder in class, the teacher moved me during math class to a desk right beside her own.  I realize now that she thought this change would help me stay on track and be able to ask questions when needed.  But because I was the only student that was moved, it singled me out as the dumb kid.  I felt embarrassed to sit at that separate desk, and took a subject I mildly disliked, and turned it into something I hated.  I got the notion into my head that I will never be able to do math and that it was pointless to try.  Being moved there created a cycle; because I was embarrassed, I thought I was not good at math, and my scores would show it, which would lead to me having to sit at that desk again.  I also struggled with the mad minute multiplication sheets we had to do.  When I worked on math at home, I was able to take my time with it and eventually was able to find the answer.  But the mad minutes made it impossible for me to take my time, and i would only be able to answer the first few questions.  Since the majority of my classmates were able to do the sheets in the time allowed without any problems, it reinforced the idea that I’m not good at math.  Even though I was able to get the correct answers if i took my time with the sheets.  Being singled out and unable to compete/keep up with the mad minutes made grade 3 math class one of the worst experiences of my life, and shaped how I viewed myself and my ability to do math.  That class was oppressive because my teacher did not focus on my individual needs as a learner.  I could do the work, but the teacher was unable to see it because I failed in the mad minute quizzes, which is something she used for assessments.  Rather than singling me out in class, I wish that my teacher had looked into helping me outside of class time, or even coming to check on me in my desk instead.  If my teacher had looked at teaching me math from a different worldview, perhaps my view on math would be different.

Poirier’s article looked at Inuit mathematics and how it challenges eurocentric ideas about the purposes of math.  I thought that learning the sense of space challenges European ideas because it was created due to the Inuit people’s need for the skill.  The European view would be to read a map, but the Inuit people “learned to read snow banks and asses the direction of winds.”   “Their tradition being essentially, an oral one, the Inuit have developed a system for expressing numbers orally.”  (Poirier reading)  The European view does not take in account that people can know things without having symbols for the item.  Not needing numbers to express math challenges the European view of numeracy.  The thing that I found most interesting was that “Their (Inuit) traditional calendar is neither lunar nor solar, since it is based on natural, independently recurring yearly events.”  The connection to nature, and basing your year on natural occurrences is extremely different from the European view of calendars.  What i find most notable is that aspects of Inuit mathematics all have a connection to nature, and the terns used have meaning behind them.


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