February 28, 2022: STEM + C – Using Culturally Situated Design Tools to Learn Heritage Algorithms from Around the World

Math is cultural! Indigenous peoples around the world have contributed to many of the mathematical applications we know today. The problem is that the extraction of knowledge from Indigenous cultures has been obscured from many of our modern understandings of mathematics.  Restoring Indigenous algorithms- the mathematical way in which Indigenous people express their perspective of the world- is key to decolonizing curriculum and sustaining Indigenous perspectives. Inside cultural designs, for example, one can appreciate mathematical concepts embedded with Indigenous ways of knowing. Culturally Situated Design Tools: Teaching Math and Computing Through Culture is an incredible digital resource than can help restore “heritage algorithms” and bring them to our classrooms using cultural designs.

“Heritage algorithms” can help students learn mathematics and scientific principles as they digitally simulate original Indigenous artifacts, and students can even develop their own creations. Some of the Culturally Situated Design Tools available are: Anishinaabe Quilts & Arcs, Pre-Columbian Pyramids, Cornrow Braids, and many more… All tools are intended to improve education, justice, and equality through a new perspective of STEM + C (culture) educational methods. Culturally Situated Design Tools is a digital resource developed by Ron Eglash, an Ethno-mathematician who studies the way math and cultures intersect. His research has shown that many aspects of African design in architecture, art, even hair braiding are based on mathematical patterns from Indigenous perspectives. To learn more watch below Ron Eglash’s TED Talk, The fractals at the heart of African designs.

Culturally Situated Design Tools begin with a selection of heritage arts that are both connected to Indigenous communities and based on local inherent math and scientific understandings. After the selection of the heritage arts, speaking with Elders and community representatives to ensure that the design tools are relevant and respectful of Indigenous knowledges. These projects were also developed with the help of Indigenous artisans for an actual representation of the design. Making sure to tell the story from their point of view by not imposing knowledge from the outside buy rather translating Indigenous knowledges into digital instruments situated in a cultural context, was the work done by this amazing mathematics digital tools. Each design tool starts the lesson with a cultural background story in order for students to understand the full context. For example, a beautiful mathematical Indigenous lesson that can be used in any geometry unit K-12 is Wigwametry developed by RunningHorse Livingston & Joni Theobald.

For many cultures, the word mathematics is a verb, something they do and learn as an intrinsic part of their everyday life. Mathematics can be so much more than a story problem or an exercise in a worksheet with little or no context. We can integrate math concepts into any type of cultural activity from around the world. The lack of diversity in STEM is a major concern in our modern era and its biased perspective will continue to create industrial pollution, labour exploitation and the weaponization of everything from drones to social media. The addition of Indigenous knowledges in STEM +C (culture) opens the possibility create to a more just and sustainable world. Culturally Situated Design Tools use a generative justice framework as a foundation for the much-needed diversity in mathematics and science. Hence, students from all backgrounds are more attracted to mathematics through culturally sustaining approaches that teaches that math is more than numbers.