Math Research Project Highlights the Growing Educational Debt Owed to Indigenous Students

November 1, 2019
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Western mathematics can marginalize and undermine graduation success rates for Indigenous students, but a new research project is demonstrating how educators can change outcomes by blending Western and Indigenous approaches to math instruction.  

“Referring to the difference in test scores between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students as an achievement gap is part of the problem,” says Dr. Glen Aikenhead, a member of the research team and professor emeritus, Curriculum Studies at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Education. “It implies Indigenous students are to blame when what we’re seeing is a failure within the education system itself, not the students.”

The goal of the one-year project, Culture-Based Mathematics for Reconciliation for Professional Development, was to work with four rural teachers who teach Grades 5 to 12 to help them promote cross-cultural experiences within their classes. Participating teachers took part in a two-day mandatory cultural immersion. They learned how to teach in a culture-based way that combines Western and Indigenous approaches. Teachers then created seven culture-based lesson plans that could be tested and adjusted as needed.

In addition to supporting many of the Truth and Reconciliation’s Calls to Action, Aikenhead says the research project also supports teacher professional development.

“This research demonstrates what a successful professional development plan can look like for school divisions to promote reconciliation and increased achievement in mathematics,” says Aikenhead.

On November 2, Research Team Leader Sharon Meyer and Glen Aikenhead will be at the Circle Drive Alliance Church, 3035 Preston Ave. S., Saskatoon, from 11:40 a.m. to 1 p.m. to share their work. The Salon Series event is being co-sponsored by the Saskatchewan Mathematics Teachers’ Society and the McDowell Foundation, and is open to anyone with an interest in mathematics.

“For many years, the SMTS has made a deliberate effort to highlight speakers who can support Saskatchewan teachers in the challenging and necessary work of Indigenizing mathematics classrooms and creating space for Indigenous ways of knowing at the annual Saskatchewan Understands Math conference,” says Michelle Naidu, President of the SMTS. “We’re excited to partner with the McDowell Foundation for a Salon Series to continue this learning and to elevate Saskatchewan research.”

This research project was inspired by earlier successes in culture-based mathematics research conducted in Alaska, Hawaii, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and Canada’s Maritimes. Those projects demonstrated dramatic increases in interest and success experienced by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

“Teachers want to adapt to help all students succeed, but teachers need support to make the shift successfully,” says Ellen Whiteman, Manager, McDowell Foundation. “Teachers need knowledge about local Indigenous cultures, examples of Indigenous mathematizing and access to authentic Indigenous sources of information they can trust to guide them. We’re grateful to support teacher-led research projects such as this.”

The Salon Series events provide an opportunity for teachers to share their research projects with the wider Saskatchewan community. Visit www.mcdowellfoundation.ca to learn how to access research funding or to learn more about how you can support teacher-led research in the province.