Mathagony Aunt

28th May 2004 at 01:00
Multicultural links

Q I am a head of maths and would like to encourage multi-cultural maths. I have some ideas but wondered if there was anything in particular that should be included.

A Much of mathematics has its roots in different cultures. You ask what should be included - that is a decision you should make with your department; to give a multicultural dimension to your scheme of work, the department needs to have "ownership" of the material. Here are some issues for discussion at a department meeting: Why Multicultural Mathematics is Important (D'Ambrosio, 1995), stated that ethno-maths has a role in helping us to clarify the nature of mathematical knowledge and of knowledge in general.

A wider view is found at http:cs. beloit.educhaveyM1037Views.html - suggesting that ethno-maths is: "The study of the interactions between mathematics and human culture." Views are presented from seven different perspectives: educational, anthropological, modelling, historical, modern historical, scientific and mathematical. Prior to the meeting you could download and circulate the document so that each perspective can be considered.

What kinds of multicultural maths would they like to include in their teaching scheme (an ongoing process, as new ideas can be included).

www.ecsu.ctstateu.edudeptseduprojectsethnomath.html has an extensive list of links with ideas under headings such as music, kinship, calligraphy, time and measurement.

Before the meeting, some inset time could be allocated for staff to visit the different links. Each person could focus on a particular area in depth.

Some resources will be suitable for starter activities (such as the fact that the Yancos of the Amazon count one, two, three, lots - leading to a discussion of their numbers system in the modern world and perhaps arithmetic with different bases). Other ideas might be a way to teach a concept, for instance fractions, through origami. The department could consider the time that might be allocated to the activity and its value to the scheme of work, remembering that activities which are not part of the curriculum might stimulate interest in maths. One site I found uses string figures - isfa.htm. Like cat's cradle, designs are formed using the fingers through a single loop of string; you could use other part of the body too. The creation of such figures has been used in play, magic and storytelling. Animated diagrams help pupils to create their own at: www.frontiernet.netsteve_ glimpsestringar.html

I am in my final teaching practice and have a top set Year 9 group. I would like to provide an interesting starter revising volume.

One that I have tried successfully uses Multi-link cubes to create a set of shapes. Begin by showing the group a shape you have made prior to the lesson. Ask them how many cubes it contains. Discuss the "hidden" cubes.

Tell them the first shape is 23 of the original shape. Assuming that the total number of cubes (including hidden ones) is 36, then 13 is 18 cubes (36 V 2) and the whole shape is 54 cubes. If they have Multilink cubes, pupils could work in pairs to show what the complete shape might look like.

In the second example, the shape is 120% of the original. There are 48 cubes, again including "hidden" ones. Ask the group how they would find out 100% of the original shape's volume.

Probably the easiest is to find 10% (120 V 12 = 10%; 48 V 12 = 4). 10% is 4 cubes, so 100% is 40 cubes (10 x 10% = 100%; 10 x 4 = 40).

There are 12 cubes in the third shape, which is 0.125 of the volume. How many are in the whole shape? Let the group use their own methods and then discuss the ways in which they have worked this out. Perhaps double, double, double, so 12 (0.125) becomes, 24 (0.25); 48 (0.5); then 96 (1). So the original shape would be 96 cubes.

A nice way to follow an exercise such as this is to ask pupils to create their own shapes - have the digital camera ready. Test the shapes with the group and keep those that work well for other groups. You could also look at a similar exercise with surface area, using smaller shapes.

Wendy Fortescue-Hubbard is a teacher and game inventor. She has been awarded a three-year fellowship by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) to spread maths to the masses.

Email your questions to Mathagony Aunt at Or write to TES Teacher, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX

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