What is the major criticism of the article, "Aboriginal Perspectives and/in Mathematics: A Case Study of Three Grade 6 Teachers", by Kathlyn Nolan and J. Harley Weston?
As written in the article in question, "Aboriginal Perspectives and/in Mathematics: A Case Study of Three Grade 6 Teachers," the major criticism of the paper is thus:
The critique follows that if changing the nature of mathematics itself is non-negotiable then all one is left with is a soft integration—an approach where curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment are adapted in an attempt to suit the needs of diverse learners, but the discipline itself (and what it means to do and know mathematics) remains intact. The soft approach to integration makes it truly challenging to view Aboriginal perspectives (and, for that matter, any additional perspectives or lenses) as anything but add-ons, which are only taken into consideration if teachers have the time and inclination to do so. (Nolan, Weston, 2015, p.13)
What this critique is essentially arguing is that the learning of mathematics is not well aligned or integrated with the values of Aboriginal students. Moreover, it argues that most disciplines are not aligned with the values of Aboriginal students in Canada. This means that subjects like science, social studies, writing, and even mathematics will not be integrated into the learning values of Aboriginal students if the students' own cultural values are not taken into consideration along with their formal scholastic education.
To better integrate Aboriginal students into formal education, the paper centers around the work of several sixth-grade Canadian teachers in the province of Saskatchewan. These teachers provide a focus for how Aboriginal-centered curricula can result in better educational goals and outcomes for the students they serve.
The paper states that in the Western and Northern Canadian Protocol, one of the nine critical characteristics of mathematics for the teaching of grade 6 students is thus:
A first step in actualization of mathematics from First Nations and Metis perspectives is to empower teachers to understand that mathematics is not acultural. As a result, teachers then realize that the traditional ways of teaching the mathematics are also culturally-biased[sic]. These understandings will support the teacher in developing First Nations and Metis students' personal mathematical understandings and mathematical self-confidence and ability through a more holistic and constructivist approach to learning. (WNCP, 2006, p.17)
Essentially, the protocol states that teachers in Aboriginal areas need to integrate mathematics into the culture they are teaching in. This means that mathematics cannot be arbitrarily related to students as a "language of the world," so to speak. Rather, it needs to be demonstrated to students in a way that is culturally relevant to their lives, so that they can then integrate it in a more holistic fashion. Students' understanding of mathematics and future success is deeply rooted in the ability of teachers to relate cultural values and the fundamentals of mathematical principles.
The paper goes on to argue that while the guidelines set for teachers in the Aboriginal nations are clear and helpful, the guidelines are also rather anemic. The guidelines provide no real practical basis in how to best relate mathematics to the students and their own personal beliefs and cultural values. With that, it is up to the educators how to best implement cultural values with mathematical principles.
The paper argues that successful educators are able to implement mathematics into the core learning requirements for Aboriginal students by also implementing Aboriginal traditions. In the article, a teacher named Chris tells of how she implemented traditions like bead-making into her teaching. She also implemented traditional Aboriginal games for the children to play that required elementary-level mathematics. She would then later test the children on the mathematical content, but would do so only after a long time of implementing math into traditional Aboriginal games and practices. She reported great success and is quoted in the article: "the students did not even see it as math because we did it in social" (Nolan, Weston, 2015, p.17).
The major criticism of the article is that the positive outcomes of students' understanding of mathematical principles is directly correlated with a teacher's ability to relate cultural values into the learning environment. In the article, Kathleen Nolan and J. Harley Weston argue that if teachers can respect and implement Aboriginal values into the learning atmosphere, measurable goals and educational guidelines will be met. Furthermore, guidelines for each subject—not only mathematics—can be met with immense success.
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