Mathematics and Rollerblades
University of Northern Colorado
I recall recently being out walking on a Sunday morning. Three kids about age 8 or 9 were roller blading. They saw a narrow width open concrete drain going down into a depression in the ground. The kids decided to try going down the drain on their roller blades. One youngster was the gutsy one, and after he made it safely, his two more hesitant buddies gave it a whirl, and they did fine, too.
One of the kids noticed a small mound of earth at the bottom of the incline where the drain ended. He decided to try to leap over it on the next try down the drain. As I watched, I read a little fear creep over his face, and I overheard worry in his voice as he explained to his companions what challenge he was about to assume. Then he summoned his nerve, and his partners and I looked on as he speeded down the track. He jumped and cleared the mound with room to spare. His friends took up the challenge, and they succeeded, as well. To increase the challenge, one of them decided to try to build the mound higher. He would have accomplished that goal if the dirt had been easier to dig and if it had been moister to pack together.
At this point, I started a little conversation with the kids. I told them I had always wanted to try those roller blades but that I was worried I’d get hurt. One of the youngsters told me not to worry, that his dad rode the blades, and his dad was 37. I told him I was 48, and the youngster sought to allay my fears or bolster my courage by saying that I was only 11 years older than his dad. Well, enough visiting had taken place, except for my question about what the young man was planning to do next.
He said he was going to do a 360. I asked him to explain, and he said that was a circle in the air. So then he took off and leaped into the air as he left the bottom of the drain. He landed smoothly, and when he returned to the top, I asked him what had happened. He reported he hadn’t made it. What he said he’d done was to make it only part way around. He said he had only done a 180! So I asked him to tell what he might do to make the 360. He thought a moment and said if he’d jump higher, he’d have more time in the air to spin, and that’s how he’d do the 360 next time. Well, I didn’t get to see next time because he and his friends spied a wonderful pipe structure they wanted to examine and explore. So, off they went.
Those kids left me with this story that I think is just a wonderful example of naturally occurring mathematics. There’s a world of informal mathematical experience just lying dormant. Many kids have such experiences as these, and a route to elaborate mathematical understandings would be so profitable through this territory.
MATHSED Listserv in Australia
MathsEd is an electronic discussion list to serve the international community of mathematics educators. It might well serve as a forum for discussing issues in Ethnomathematics. To subscribe Email a message to
with no message in the subject line and in the body of the message should be the single line as follows
SUBSCRIBE MATHSED-L <your name>
Problems or requests for help should be directed to Andrew Waywood and his e-mail address is
ISGEM Presents Two Resolutions
to the 1995 NCTM Delegate Assembly
The following resolutions have been presented by ISGEm to the committee that decides which resolutions will be presented for consideration at the NCTM Annual Meeting in Boston in April of 1995.
Be it resolved that: the Board of Directors reconstitute a committee to work with international issues of mathematics education.
Rationale: North American mathematics education cannot stand alone in the world. There is much we can learn and much we can contribute by reaching beyond our borders to the world mathematics education community. The committee can facilitate such outreach by establishing formal links and encouraging informal ties to mathematics education organizations and individuals in other countries. This can strengthen the role of NCTM in international committees, encourage exchange of curricular and instructional ideas, assist researchers in gaining a more global view of mathematical experience, and help build a broader viewpoint for North American teachers and students. Administratively, this committee could also provide a base for international affiliated groups and participation in the International Commission on Mathematical Instruction.
Be it resolved that: the Board of Directors establish a Joint Committee on Mathematics and Culture.
Rationale: NCTM is in a position to provide important encouragement and assistance to efforts to consider increased use of culture in the school mathematics curriculum. This is in keeping with the Standards’ call for more mathematical connections. Culture in this context includes examples of mathematical contributions and applications from around the world, uses of mathematical ideas of various age groups, special needs of mathematics by occupational groups, and other cultural groups broadly defined. This also includes the culture of mathematics: historical examples; math in the arts; classic puzzles, games, and problems of math; and other areas of potential curricular enrichment. Note that this committee’s scope complements but does not overlap that of the current Committee for a Comprehensive Mathematics Education for Every Child; the existing committee is more concerned with equity issues for underrepresented groups. The proposed committee would be concerned with encouraging a broader mathematics curriculum for all students, drawing more naturally upon the needs of the learners than the traditions of the profession.
[Note: It would be expected that the joint committee would include members from several of the affiliates that are concerned with mathematics and culture.]
Curriculum & Classroom Activities SIG
to Meet during NCTM in Boston
The Special Interest Group on Curriculum and Classroom Activities will meet on Friday, April 7, at 3 PM during the NCTM Annual Meeting in Boston. People interested in attending should check the bulletin boards, the electronic message system under Larry Shirley’s name, or ask around to learn the venue.
9th Interamerican Math Ed Conference
Santiago, Chile, July 30 – August 4, 1995
The Ninth InterAmerican Conference on Mathematics Education (IACME IX) in Santiago de Chile, July 30 – August 4, 1995 (This is a change from an earlier announced date. The Chair of the Committee is Eduardo Luna, Math Dept, Barry U, Miami Shores, FL, USA (email@example.com).
Discovering Women – A PBS Series
that Breaks Science Stereotypes
WGBH, Boston’s public television station, is presenting a new six-part series called Discovering Women, featuring the professional and personal stories of notable women scientists. Scientists featured in the series include: Melissa Franklin, a high-energy physicist; biochemist Lynda Jordan; Misha Mahowald, a computational neuroscientist; geophysicist Marcia McNutt; molecular biologist Lydia Villa-Komaroff; and archaeologist Patty Jo Watson. The series is narrated by Michelle Pfeiffer and is scheduled for national public television broadcast in March and April 1995.
To accompany the series, WGBH is launching a comprehensive and integrated outreach project targeting youth leaders, as well as social studies, English and science teachers and the students they serve. Central to the national outreach campaign is the S.O.S. – Seek Out Science initiative. This motivational project is designed to spark junior high and middle school students’ interest in science, broaden their understanding of what science is, and create connections between young people and the women working in the sciences in their own communities. Through the process of researching and interviewing women scientists, students will learn about the lives, work, and struggles of these women. These projects will break down students’ stereotypes of what it means to be a scientist by opening their eyes to a vast array of experiences and life stories.
A 16-page, multi-disciplinary S.O.S. Activity Guide will provide information about the television series and will offer how-to information for teachers and youth leaders about the S.O.S. project, which will run through April 1995. All students participating in the initiative will receive a recognition award from WGBH for work. More importantly, their work may be included in a Discovering Women/Seek Out Science exhibit at one of eight demonstration sites. Sites will be located throughout the nation, primarily at science and children’s museums. Each demonstration site will create a unique display of the students’ work, including an interactive database of every students’ findings, and generate publicity around the exhibit during the summer and fall of 1995.
If you have not received a copy of the S.O.S. – Seek Out Science Activity Guide by the end of December and/or your local PBS station does not have copies write to:
WGBH – S.O.S. Activity Guide
Box 2222- S.O.S.
South Easton, MA 02375
If you would like a Spanish language version of the S.O.S. Activity Guide, please write to:
S.O.S. Spanish, Educational Print and Outreach
WGBH, 125 Western Ave.
Boston, MA 02134
For more information about Discovering Science and the Seek Out Science initiative, call Amy McMahon at 617-492-2777, extension 4346.
Have You Seen
“Have You Seen” is a regular feature of the ISGEm Newsleter in which works related to Ethnomathematics can be reviewed. We encourage all those interested to contribute to this column.
Bockarie, Alex. Mathematics in the Mende Culture: Its General Implication for Mathematics Teaching. School Science and Mathematics, v93 n4, April 1993, pp. 208-11.
This article discusses the Mathematics that exists in the Mende culture, an African tribe in Sierra Leone, includes counting, computation, fractions, ratios, forecasting games, and mathematical applications. It discusses the Mende representations of these concepts and discusses implications of their integration into mathematics teaching.
Boaler, Jo. The Role of Contexts in the Mathematics Classroom: Do They Make Mathematics More “Real”?, For the Learning of Mathematics, v13 n2, June 1993, pp. 12-17.
Boaler suggests that contexts may be useful in mathematics instruction in relation to learning transfer and that the factors that determine whether a context is useful are complex. She discusses the context effect, learning in context, how well students identify with tasks taken out of an adult world, and the effects of ethnomathematics.
Knijnik, Gelsa An Ethnomathematical Approach in Mathematical Education: A Matter of Political Power. For the Learning of Mathematics, v13 n2, June 1993, pp. 23-25.
Knijnik presents two practices used by rural Brazilians to estimate area of land and volumes of tree trunks. In the context of the struggle for land and using an ethnomathematical approach, she develops educational ideas involving the interrelations between academic, school-based mathematics and popular ethnomathematical knowledge. She also discusses contributions of this work to the process of social change.
Lipla, Jerry. Culturally Negotiated Schooling: Toward a Yup’ik Mathematics, Journal of American Indian Education, Spring, 1994, pp. 14-20.
This paper describes one aspect of a long-term collaboration between the author and a Yup’ik teachers’ research group, Ciulistet, focusing on the processes and development of Yup’ik culturally based mathematics. The premise behind this work is that the Yup’ik language, culture, and worldview, particularly subsistence activities, contain mathematical concepts. These concepts include a number system that is base 20 and sub-base 5, and ways of measuring and visualizing. This has direct application to school math. However, just as important, the project participants are increasingly realizing the potential of using their culture and language as means to change the culture of schooling.
Zaslavsky, Claudia. Multicultural Math: Hands-On Activities from Around the World, Scholastic Professional Books, P.O. Box 7502, Jefferson City, MO 65102-9968 (800-325-6149), ISBN #0-590-49646-8, $14.12.
This new book presents Islamic tessellations, the Chinese abacus, the Inca quipu, Kenyan finger counting, and many more math activities that can be integrated into the grades 3-6 math curriculum. It includes cultural background information for teachers and reproducible activities for students. A rationale for multicultural awareness in math is set forth and it is geared to the NCTM Standards.
Zaslavsky, Claudia. “Africa Counts” and Ethnomathematics, For the Learning of Mathematics, V14, n2, June 1994, pp. 3-8.
In this article Zaslavsky discusses her motivation for writing Africa Counts, her tribulations and successes experienced in writing it, and her efforts to infuse a multicultural perspective into the math curriculum.
ISGEm Executive Board
Gloria Gilmer, President
Math Tech, Inc.
9155 North 70 Street
Milwaukee, Wl 53223 USA
Ubi D’Ambrosio, 1st Vice President
Rua Peixoto Gomide 1772 ap. 83
01409-002 São Paulo, SP BRAZIL
Alverna Champion, 2nd Vice President
4335-I Timber Ridge Trail
Wyoming, MI 49509 USA
Luis Ortiz-Franco, 3rd Vice President
Dept of Math, Chapman University
Orange, CA 92666 USA
Maria Reid, Secretary
145-49 225th St
Rosedale, NY 11413 USA
Anna Grosgalvis, Treasurer
Milwaukee Public Schools
3830 N. Humboldt Blvd.
Milwaukee, WI 53212 USA
Patrick (Rick) Scott, Editor
College of Education, U of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131 USA
Henry A. Gore, Program Assistant
Dept of Mathematics, Morehouse College
Atlanta, GA 30314 USA
David K. Mtetwa, Member-at-Large
14 Gotley Close
Marlborough, Harare, ZIMBABWE
Lawrence Shirley, Member-at-Large
Dept of Mathematics, Towson State U
Towson, MD 21204-7079 USA