Prompt:

Using Gale’s lecture, Poirier’s article, and Bear’s article, identify at least three ways in which Inuit mathematics challenge Eurocentric ideas about the purpose of mathematics and the way we learn it.

While there were many ways in which Inuit mathematics challenged Eurocentric ideas, I feel that the three strongest challenges come in the form of; number base, contextual understanding, and communication of mathematical ideas.

Before reading these articles and watching Gale’s lecture, I was actually aware of the differences in base between different cultures. What I find so interesting about this aspect of mathematics is that at its core, base doesn’t matter. In my EMTH 300 class we have explored counting systems other than base 10, and in my MATH 221 class we have converted between bases. All of the math that you would ever have to do is still doable, its just that you need to adjust the way you think about it. In some ways, I think that base 20 could make more sense than our Western are 10 system. Counting in base 20 could give students an easier understanding of large numbers for example. While counting in base 20 feels like something that goes against all logic and should not work in the sense of Eurocentric math, its interesting to find that concepts such as √2 and π still hold! This is further proof that the base does not matter, and support the idea that having different cultures count using different number systems does not put anyone at an obvious disadvantage.

As I am furthering my mathematical education I am realizing that removing the context from math is damaging. The idea presented in Gale’s lecture, Poirier’s (2007), and Bear’s (2000) articles about mathematical context is something that I feel should be brought into all classrooms. While speaking to the cultural link that mathematics has Poirier (2007) also speaks to the need for context stating: “different cultures have developed different mathematical tools according to their needs and their environment” (p. 54). If we teach mathematics as a context free abstract thing, then we remove a student’s ability to understand math’s place in our culture and community. Taking that further, if we remove the cultural context that helped to develop the mathematical understandings we are teaching, then we aren’t teaching the whole subject. Given this reasoning it is easy to see that continuing to teach math using Eurocentric methods not only lessens a student’s ability to take in math they are being taught, but also disrupts and directly challenges any cultural understandings of math that they make have brought into the classrooms with them.

Communicating mathematical reasoning is one of the toughest parts of learning math. I have been working as a math and science tutor since starting at the University of Regina in 2018. I couldn’t tell you the amount of times that I have asked a student to explain their reasoning and then have them look back at me with blank stares. What I have noticed is that when you expect students to use ‘math language’ to explain a concept they freeze up. If you ask, are those angles complimentary, supplementary, or corresponding they have no idea. If you instead as students to explain the relationship that angles have, they will eventually fall back on the above definitions without even realizing it. Extending that thought to students of different cultural backgrounds, and taking into consideration the different ways in which those cultures explain numbers, it is easy to see that no one way of explaining a math concept is better than the other. At times, it could even be said that cultures who have greater spatial awareness will excel at math problems other students would have a hard time understanding.