Teaching – Incorporating Culturally Responsive Teaching Experiences into Your Mathematics Classroom

Seeing culturally responsive examples of teaching and curriculum in action is exciting. Children engage enthusiastically when learning experiences connect to their cultures.

To create this type of experience requires thinking about children as cultural mirrors. What children relate to reflects their background, their upbringing, their home lives. New Zealand has a unique cultural history that our students understand. Leveraging their backgrounds improves their learning. Mathematics in particular lends itself to incorporating many types of culturally inclusive strategies.

Culturally responsive teaching strategies (1) can be found with a bit of research (2). Some examples below were quoted from the Connecting All Strands series published by Caxton Educational and created completely in New Zealand for New Zealand students. The resources offer activities, games and puzzles, and instructional suggestions that reflect Kiwi students’ cultural experiences. From demographically diverse pictures to word problems that highlight unique Kiwi experiences, the series ties mathematical learning in to background knowledge. Here are a few examples to try in your classroom programme.

  1. Incorporate differentiation for culturally diverse experiences in word problems. For example, use students’ names to activate interest. Give area and perimeter examples for areas that relate to your students’ cultures: for example, the perimeter and area of a wharenui if working with Maori students.
  2. Use culturally specific food in your daily lessons. Food is universal. All cultures have cuisines, and most students have fond memories to entice their interests. What about using recipes to teach fractions and measurements?
  3. Promote student engagement by using applicable worldwide or local currency in your teaching moments. Not only is money tactile, which aids sensory learners, but it contributes to a variety of different teaching areas, such as shapes and colours, adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, and conversion rates.
  4. Organise a complete teaching unit around the local physical environment. Calculating the number of steps to build a new staircase that meets earthquake standards can help students make explicit mathematical connections, but also ties into a real-life scenario.
  5. Play games that resonate with children’s cultures to promote their excitement for learning: often, they don’t even recognize that they are “doing maths.” Mathematics should also be fun!
  6. Finally, encourage home-school connections. Engage parents by inquiring about the languages used at home, then incorporate that meaningful vocabulary, where relevant, into mathematical instruction. Linking to children’s home languages is key to leveraging their background knowledge. The rich task shown above embodies an authentic example of Maori and Pasifika culture through language.

If this list looks a bit daunting, don’t worry. For more information on resources, such as the Connecting All Strands series, to help diversify your instruction, visit www.caxed.co.nz or email joel@caxed.co.nz.

If you haven’t yet committed to culturally relevant pedagogy, consider this quote from “Defining culturally responsive teaching: The case of mathematics” by Jenni L. Harding-DeKam on its importance: “Culturally responsive mathematics is important in elementary classrooms because it allows students to make personal connections to mathematics content. These personal connections should be based on what the children already know; furthermore, the mathematics connection can be the most meaningful when they are connected to the child’s cultural background. Teachers can use culturally responsive mathematics in their classroom to create meaningful and distinctive real world understanding for their students. In a sense, mathematics comes alive for the students in the classroom and becomes more than just a problem in the math book … it becomes personal.(3)

1) “15 Culturally-Responsive Teaching Strategies and Examples,” prodigygame.com blog, September 14, 2017, Marcus Guido, Teaching Strategies, https://www.prodigygame.com/blog/culturally-responsive-teaching/

2) Cogent Education research article, Jenni L. Harding-DeKam & Miriam Ben-Peretz (2014). Defining culturally responsive teaching: The case of mathematics, Cogent Education, 1:1, DOI: 10.1080/2331186X.2014.972676

3) Cogent Education research article, Jenni L. Harding-DeKam & Miriam Ben-Peretz (2014). Defining culturally responsive teaching: The case of mathematics, Cogent Education, 1:1, DOI: 10.1080/2331186X.2014.972676