I was inspired to make cultural diversity work in maths, a subject many view as culture-free, by my experiences of teaching and travelling in Asia. Last June I completed my PGCE in secondary maths at the University of East Anglia, during which time I read with interest about the need in schools for cultural diversity and racial equality.
I decided to put together a worldwide maths activity pack, containing 10 sections covering the main cultural groups in the world and relevant to particular cultural groups established in Britain today. I wanted to make the history and multicultural background of the maths implicit within the activities rather than their main focus.
I chose five non-European cultures: African, Chinese, Egyptian, Indian and Islamic, and five European cultures: British, French, Greek, Italian and Swiss. All the activities are already fairly well known, but I aimed to make them into concise worksheets for individual or whole-class work at key stage 3. As long as standard classroom resources are available, once the activities are set up the teacher should have time for supporting and assessing.
The board game Dara comes from Nigeria. It was difficult to find a comprehensive set of rules for it but players needed guidance. So with the help of Cliff and Matt, two Year 7 students, I added to the basic rules. Now there is room for greater strategy at the initial laying stage which does not hand an advantage automatically to the player layin last. Also, numbering the counters means that lines of three cannot be repeated, which used to lead to a guaranteed win situation. Tightening up the rules made the game seem fairer, which gave the students more motivation.
As a relatively simple and quick game, Dara is a good way to encourage logical thinking. Teachers can also exploit the record of counter numbers for numeracy extension work.
The French challenge, by contrast, introduces students to a higher level of maths, but without getting them bogged down in its advanced applications. In this way, students can feel this maths is for them, even though they have not yet met it in the curriculum.
The French challenge focuses on the number patterns that build up to form Pascal's triangle. Students investigate triangular and pyramidal stacks of tins. Of course, this could be done physically rather than by spotting and extending the patterns given. The teacher could then use the activity without the worksheet as a longer investigation leading to the development of triangular numbers. For other students, the activity many need to be kept relatively simple, with the emphasis on producing some display work.
Numeracy work is also possible and I found that once one of my students found the diagonal adding rule, the whole class was able to check that the rule was true. This led to the realisation that the series was infinite, which really caught their imaginations - and that, after all, was the whole idea .
Simon Crivich teaches at Overton Grange School in Sutton. E-mail: SFCrivich@email.com