Conceptualizing Mathematics in Island Cultures

CRDG evaluators are working with Pacific Resources for Education and Learning (PREL) on an exciting new project that studies how mathematics is conceptualized in Pacific Island indigenous cultures. In the Mathematics and Culture in Micronesia: Integrating Societal Experiences (MACIMISE) project, graduate students from American Sāmoa, Palau, Guam, the Federated States of Micronesia (Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae), the Marshall Islands, and Hawai‘i are enrolled in MEd or PhD programs in the College of Education at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Drawing on the field of ethnomathematics, each participant is working on their home island, thinking about their cultural heritage and what that means for teaching mathematics. The project recognizes that mathematics is a universal language, yet each culture has its own way of working with and teaching it. With an advisory board that includes both mathematicians and cultural experts, the project’s ultimate goal is for each of the graduate students to produce mathematics curriculum units that incorporate cultural knowledge as well as indigenous ways of thinking about mathematics.

As evaluators for the project, CRDG faculty are engaged in monitoring the progress of the project, interviewing the principal investigators and participants, developing questionnaires and course evaluations, and reviewing project documents. The first thing that comes across in talking to the evaluators is enthusiasm, both theirs and that of the principal investigators and participants. They also talk about the challenges presented by a project like this. “Everybody is learning as they go,” says evaluator Terry Higa. This includes principal investigators, professors, students, and evaluators. As they became more aware of the nuanced ways that information is conceived and transmitted in the various island cultures, they began to look for more culturally appropriate ways to do the evaluation. The project will undoubtedly continue to both excite and challenge as participants work towards exploring indigenous styles of mathematics.