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KSK Kula Waena kumu Sydney Kealanahele draws attention to the community agreements that help to set an overall cultural tone for her math class.

KSK kumu shares experience in ethnomathematics at national math teachers' conference

Oct. 10, 2023

The whiteboard in Kumu Sydney Kealanahele’s eighth grade math classroom is covered in formulas and terms like “constant” and “coefficient” - typical lessons for beginning algebra. But look more closely, and above the board are lists with the heading “Community Agreements.” Those contain words like “collaborate;” “support each other;” and “be creative in your own way.” Typically not the concepts usually associated with math class. It’s one of the differences between traditional math and ethnomathematics - a developing field in which Kumu Kealanahele received certification last year.

“Traditional math has been, for lack of better terms, sterile in a sense, it's just pretty black and white,” she said. With her students, “I try to give them problems where they're having to work together, which I think is also something that's more authentic to what they'll be experiencing in the real world of actually having to look at a problem and not just know it for themselves, but being able to talk to another person or ask someone else a question if they don't understand, or share what they know with someone else.”

As the eighth grade math content lead, Kealanehele is bringing fresh ideas for incorporating Hawaiian Culture-Based Education into a traditional school subject. “You could almost replace ‘ethnomathematics’ with ‘Hawaiian Culture-Based Education,’ because it really incorporates those same ideas like community and being able to have authentic experiences.” While her “Community Agreements” set an overall cultural tone for the class, Hawaiian culture is also incorporated into the lessons themselves. “Some of my colleagues, for example, have incorporated Moananuiākea, and how can we use these equations that we're looking at to represent the speed of Hōkūle‘a or things like that.”

This month, several kumu will be traveling to Washington, D.C. to present a panel on ethnomathematics at the National Council for Teachers in Mathematics. Kealanahele will be among them. “From what I understand, in the mainland, it's a newer concept and idea.” The University of Hawaii certification program she attended is the first of its kind in the world. Kealanahele hopes to share her experiences as a student in the program, as well as how she’s incorporated those lessons in her classes - and encourage more teachers to explore the value of adding culture to the math classroom.

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