Academic mathematics is what is taught in classrooms all across the world, but is it the only way to do and think about mathematics? Is mathematics truly universal and thus, understood by all cultures in the same way? I have never thought this to be true but never had a way of expressing my thoughts and transferring my thoughts to the classroom until I found the ethnomathematics program at the University of Hawaii’s College of Education.
Ethnomathematics can be defined as mathematics within societal and cultural contexts. It looks within these contexts in order to understand not only what mathematics is but what it means to its practitioners. Thus, not only is ethnomathematics about the link between mathematics and culture, but it is also about raising awareness of this link to demonstrate to students the importance of mathematics in a range of cultures and in everyday life. Through this program I have found ways to incorporate ethnomathematics into the classroom by using culturally responsive teaching (CRT) and place based learning (PBL). I have found that using CRT and PBL as a way to foster ethnomathematics in the classroom ensures that students are thinking critically about mathematical process as well as opening their thinking beyond the classroom. It also gives the students a different perspective on learning mathematics and how it has evolved over time from various cultures and histories.
As I have seen firsthand through the readings I have done for this program, every culture has its own way of understanding mathematics. This program has made me feel very strongly that this understanding and belief should be welcomed into classrooms. I now have the tools and knowledge to be able to adapt academic mathematics so that my classroom incorporates mathematics of different cultures from around the world. I have seen the benefits of CRT and PBL for teaching students of all different learning styles whether it is visual, aural, verbal, or physical. This tells me that I, as teacher, definitely need to take the time to understand the mathematical, social, and cultural backgrounds of my students, not so much to consider what I can do for them, but more so I can understand their ways of thinking, and doing. I need to plan to teach and assess accordingly. Without this program I would not have seen how ethnomathematics in the classroom provides a new perspective for mathematics and I would not have challenged what are believed to be the norms of mathematics.