Multicultural Math: Seeing the Math Around Us

AfricanfractalsOne of the roots of creativity is the ability to look at the world in new ways. This may be one of the reasons that experiences in different cultures seem to be tied to greater creativity.

A wonderful example of both flexible and multicultural thinking—along with a great teaching resource—comes from ethno-mathematician Dr. Ron Eglash. RonEglashHis Culturally Simulated Design Tools site provides a collection of materials that teach principles of math and computation through varied cultures.

The activities are too rich and varied to list them all here, so I suspect they will be included in multiple posts. The activities include mathematics activities based in African, African American, Native American, Latino traditions. The site also presents activities based in contemporary youth culture, such as Cartesian and polar coordinates as they appear in graffiti, or slopes and arcs as they apply to skateboarding. Some examples include expanded lesson plans and teaching materials, and several include software that allows students to create their own interpretations of traditional art.

virtualbeadloomSince it is impossible to review all the materials, let me just share two. The Virtual Bead Loom area presents activities for grades 1-12. It includes materials on four-fold symmetry, as well as materials on the cultural context of the beadwork. Software, designed for varied grade levels, allows students to virtually create symmetrical beadwork by placing “beads” according to their coordinates.

Some of Dr. Eglash’s most famous materials concern fractals found in context of African villages. Fascinating software allows exploration of fractals in art, architecture and religious artifacts. There are even teaching materials developed by a variety of authors.

I’m fascinated by Dr. Eglash’s materials. They bring mathematical concepts to life, and help me look at both math and art in different ways. I especially appreciate the ways they encourage students and teachers alike to explore and create something new. What more could I ask from creative math lessons?

If you’d like to hear more from Dr. Eglash and have 16 minutes for fun, listen to his TED talk exploration of African fractals. You’ll never look at African design the same way!

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