Ideas about Mathematics

In my experiences in learning mathematics, the aspects were oppressive in a way that only one clear answer was accepted. Other students who may have approached the problem a different way or obtained a different answer were quickly shut down as in math classes there is only ever “one right answer”. For students who didn’t understand how to obtain this “right answer” there was often not an alternative approach. Our teacher explained the steps for each math problem, and if you didn’t understand that was seemingly your problem. In other words it was his way or the highway. This was problematic for students who struggled with math as if you didn’t “click” with hi way you were left for dead. The math we learned was also only the Eurocentric views on mathematics and nothing else was incorporated. The “one right way, one right answer” is a deeply rooted Eurocentric view, noted in Jagged World-views Colliding that is still present today in many math classrooms.


3 ways in which Inuit mathematics challenge Eurocentric ideas about the purposes of mathematics and the way we learn it from Teaching Math in the Inuit Community are: 

The Inuit Language originally only has oral representation of their numbers and had different words for different explanation of numbers. The Inuit language represents 3 in terms of a group of three, 3 inside and 3 objects, each having its own word. This challenges the way that Eurocentric numbers are represented. For example, numbers have both oral and written identities, but are all the same no matter what you are referring to.

Space in the Inuit culture is represented by objects..These objects mean different things in their language, and are placed in specific places to describe the land present beneath and around. These objects must be identifiable from a distance so that people can understand a description of a location before they reach it. For example, an object that means good fishing spots will be positioned in a way that alters fisherman and draws them to that specific spot. This challenges Eurocentric ideas because they describe space by distances. For example a good fishing spot may be 3 kilometers north of the short. We use reference points and represent spaces numerically. This is a more scientific approach, but not necessarily more efficient or “better”.

Inuit culture also uses their body parts as a tool for measurement. Therefore there is no need for a debate over whether the SI or the metric system has the best units of measurement because neither serve a purpose in their world. In Eurocentric views, this idea is briefly mentioned in math when we learn about references, for example something the size of your pinky is about 3-4 inches. Although we introduce body parts for measurement, it is only a way to get a better grasp on what an inch or centimeter is in measurement.  Measurement in Eurocentric views is a concept that requires precision, conversion, and memorization. We are taught what an inch is and how to use that to find out if a box will fit through a door. In Inuit views, a simple measurement of an arm length over the box will do this job just as good. This form of measuring has a very realistic application as one doesn’t often have a ruler in their back pocket, and is something that we probably use in our everyday lives without realizing.

Another difference I found interesting was their calendar year. Where we use days to determine when our month turn over is, they use recurring animal patterns for season and month changes. In a time where the weather is so unpredictable and our seasons seem to meld together with a burry transition, the patterns of animals might be something to look into for season and month definitions.



2 thoughts on “Ideas about Mathematics

  1. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on math. I had a very similar experience to what you were saying about only having one right answer. I think that it is important to talk about those ideas and discuss how they can be harmful to students ideas of math and themselves. I would have liked to know more about how you viewed math and what you thought. Good work!


  2. I share a lot of feelings about math! What I dislike is how as you say; there is only one right answer. What you may have touched on is how there are sometimes there are more than one ways of solving a problem except that a lot of text books want students to perform the question “their” way because theirs is the only ‘right’way. Thank you for sharing because I think you bring up some good points about how students may struggle if math doesn’t click and they get left behind.


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