Teaching is never easy. Add a pandemic, and you are looking at a whole new level of hardship. Over this past year, educators have had to step up their teaching game to reach students through distance learning. At the beginning of this 2020-2021 school year, I found myself brainstorming ideas to make this school year relatable and engaging. I had great ideas, but I found one thing missing: connection. Every year, as a new class enters our lives, we begin to forge relationships. In my experience, it is these relationships that promote a positive learning environment. With these solid student-teacher partnerships, our children can achieve so much academically and socially. How could I get that level of connectivity with students who have never set foot in my classroom? As luck would have it, I was beginning a new journey. I applied and was accepted to attend the Ethnomathematics program at the University of Hawai’i Mānoa. My goal in the program was to gain knowledge to create culturally accurate lessons that could relate to my students. As an educator, I want the lessons to resonate with them. If they can make a permanent connection to their studies, that is the knowledge that they will have for life.
The lessons that I crafted in the program have been the most memorable to the children. A once dull module on using a number line was turned into an activity measuring the heights of the beautiful Ko’olau Mountains that can be seen from our campus. Dividing fractions no longer seemed to be a chore when it involved trying to solve how much rice Tutu needed for her musubis. The most recent class on equivalent ratios garnered the most attention. I challenged my students to take Tutu’s laulau recipe that made two servings and determine how much each ingredient to have for five servings. Students started to argue about the recipe’s specifics (i.e., frozen or fresh luau leaves). Parents who happened to be near the Google Meet chimed in with their variations for laulau. The best part was when a student recalled memories of making laulau with their extended family before COVID. It was those personal stories; that was the missing connection. When my learners make the actual world application to the concept, the connection was forged. As an educator, you have given them that mana’o, or knowledge, to carry forever.
Ethnomathematics is key to that sense of belonging and connectivity. Whether it be to a specific place or a feeling of home, connections are essential to the learning process. Every student should find meaning to the learning concepts. When your learners make the real-world application to the idea, a connection is forged. As an educator, you can give them that mana’o, or knowledge, to carry forever.