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Teaching mathematics to Inuit children in Nunavik: taking into account the environment, the culture and the language.


Louise Poirier, Université de Montréal, Canada




Ethnomathematics, Inuit community, Second language, Adapted teaching situations, Collaborative project


In the spring of 2000, the Inuit community and the Kativik School Board were pondering over the difficulties encountered by students in mathematics and the measures that could be taken to help students. One significant fact that could help explain these difficulties is that Inuit students learn mathematics in their own language in the first three years of their schooling and then go on to study in either French or English. Not only these mathematics are taught in a second language but they are not exactly the same as those the students learned in their own language. It would thus seem that for these students two separate and distinct universes are cohabiting: the world of day-to-day life and the “southern” mathematical world. Faced with this dual phenomenon, the instructional situation becomes highly complex: how can these two cultures be combined and accommodated in mathematics teaching situations?

In this project we called on ethnomathematical research findings (Saxe, 1991; Bishop, 1988; Gerdes, 1985…) to help us better understand the impact of culture on the learning of mathematics and to provide methodological tools, while a collaborative approach to research guides us in our work with the teachers (Bednarz, Poirier, Desgagné and Couture, 2001; Desgagné, Bednarz, Couture, Poirier and Lebuis, 2001).

The cooperation between the researcher and teachers in creating adapted teaching situations involves a planned alternation of situation development, classroom experimentation, and feedback. We believe that a triple input is essential to the development of teaching situations, namely didactics, the teachers’ experiential knowledge, and the cultural knowledge of the Inuit community. The team includes, besides the researcher, 6 inuit teachers form the Kativik School Board, 3 members of the Inuit community working as Inuit teacher educators, and curriculum development.

During this conference, we will first talk about the environment and cultural aspects that brought the Inuit to develop their numeral system, their ways of measuring (length, distance, time…) and their great aptitudes in spatial representations. Then, we will discuss the collaborative project that took place in the development of teaching situations adapted to Inuit classrooms.

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