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- Created: Friday, 01 November 2013 14:25
- Published: Friday, 01 November 2013 14:25
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By Arielle Zerr, The Starphoenix
A table at the front of the classroom is dotted with little fish, and 17 students are equipped with small fishing rods with magnets attached to their fishing lines.
It sounds like a carnival game, but this is a math class.
It's part of a pilot project run by the math and statistics department at the University of Saskatchewan. The project aims to make math more relevant to First Nations, Inuit and Metis students by including elements of their culture into lessons. The department also hopes it will attract more aboriginal students into math and statistics studies at university.
The class is led by Stavros Stavrou, math outreach coordinator for the Department of Math and Statistics, and Norma Bear, a Grade 6 teacher at St. Frances School.
"The program is a long time coming," Stavrou said. "There has always been a demand for additional materials for First Nations students because they are under-represented (in the curriculum)."
The math and statistics departments of both Saskatchewan universities each received $50,000 in January for the project. The department began consulting with First Nations elders and community leaders and spent the summer touring their Math Mania program, which included cultural learning such as using Cree numerals to study code breaking and
aboriginal hand games to study probability.
It wasn't until the end of September that Stavrou started at St. Frances, where he now spends one hour, four days a week, teaching the Grade 6 class.
"There is a lot of knowledge out there about First Nations culture that I don't have, so I come with the math and look to connect it with the aboriginal perspectives," Stavrou said.
That's where Bear comes in.
On Thursday, before the students began the game, Bear spoke to them about fishing in Cree culture and taught them the cree word for fish, kinosew.
"We need to bring up (culture) and make them proud of themselves for being a First Nations person," Bear said. "We need to give them these tools to have positive self-esteem and their culture to fall back on."
Bear said she enjoys having Stavrou in the class because he brings new ideas about how to incorporate First Nations culture into Math Makes Sense, the school's math curriculum.
The fishing game, which teaches the concepts of 'greater than' and 'less than,' started with one fisherman trying to catch as many fish as he could in 30 seconds. As long as fish remained in the pond, some fish would also reproduce and Stavrou would add some fish to the pond.
Using Cree, the class counted the number of fish caught and the number of fish born. They repeated the activity with more and more fishermen until the fish ran out, providing a supplemental lesson on sustainability. Students gave mixed answers when asked if they liked math, but they have been enjoying their new teacher.
"He teaches us new things that we want to try and get used to and learn more about," Laura-Faye Gardippie said.
"He's one of the best teachers I've ever had," said classmate Winter Rain.
The students also seem to be responding to their lessons. Bear and Stavrou said they were happy with the students' latest test scores this week.
Stavrou said he plans to stay with the class until the end of the school year, and hopes to add more classrooms to the project in the future.