When I moved to Hawaiʻi and became a teacher, I was struck by two things: How do you incorporate meaningful, applied lessons and how do I incoporate material relevant to my students when I am new to the Hawaiʻi culture? When I first enrolled in the program, I only had a very basic knowledge of ethnomathematics. I thought this program would be a broad, informational course on culturally relevant approaches to hands-on teaching. In the first few weeks of the program, I was exposed to eye-opening literature that shifted my own focus to Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT). The concept of developing my pedagogy and shifting my lessons to have a focus on the individual cultures of my students just made sense! I designed my very first lesson plan on luahala sails and geometric proofs with a goal of incorporating Hawaiian culture. My hope was to make the content more engaging and instill a sense of confidence and pride in my students. The student response to the place-based learning approach was unanimously positive with the students asking to watch the full 40 minute film on Hōkūleʻa. This brought on a new challenge for me, which was knowing how to incorporate a culture with which I am unfamiliar.
In the months since, I have created many more lesson plans and learned more about the need for incorporating my studentsʻ unique cultures. In one lesson my students defined their own culture and experiences and applied some of their family traditions to create a geometric word problem. To create an environment where students felt comfortable and felt pride in sharing about their culture and their families, I had to create a safe environment in the classroom. What guided me on creating this academic environment was the literature on teaching for social justice and CRT. For me, the first step was creating a safe environment to encourage this growth and learning how to “check my own bias”. By considering my own biases, I could better foster student academic risks-taking and foster independent learners. Being an independent learner does not just entail intellectual curiousity. Independent learners can synthesize information across lessons and use strategies when they become “stuck” on a question. This is extremely important in enabling my students to succeed beyond just my classroom, both academically and as individuals in society.
Truthfully, incorporating ethnomathematics seemed like a daunting task at first due to the amount of information out there and my lack of knowledge on where to begin. I have found one of the best places to start has been to recognize the importance of incorporating student choice, voice, and culture as the students are better able to explain and define their individual cultures. While I am still learning more and continuously reflecting on and developing my own teaching practice, I have found that listening to my own students and their individual needs, cultures, and passions has helped to guide me on how to incorporate ethnomathematics in the classroom. Looking forward, I hope to continue this growth I have experienced throughout the last nine months. My next steps will be to create community connections. If I am new to Hawaiʻi, developing these relationships will allow me to build upon the knowledge of others in my teaching practice and lesson plans. In addition to my continuing professional development, offering fieldtrips when the pandemic is over will allow me to build upon the concept of an outdoor classroom and apply my goal of placed-based learning.