By Jennika Baines
Sun Associate Editor
It can be tough enough to prove to students that math skills are something they’ll use in the future. But teachers at Cathedral Academy at Pompei (CAP) are showing students that math is an integral part of their heritage as well.
Using an innovative learning program called ethnomathematics, teachers are leading lessons in topics like basic algebra and logic by showing how these skills are used in cultures around the world.
Cultural diversity is a defining characteristic of the neighborhood around CAP because the school is located in a section of Syracuse with many immigrant and minority households. Teachers incorporate the cultures of the students in their classroom, and Patricia Ruggiano Schmidt, principal at CAP, said this shows the children that math is something that is used in everyday life around the world.
“It’s culturally responsive and relates to the children in the classroom,” Schmidt said. “Ethnomathematics makes math relevant to the lives of the children, so they grasp it faster and they do better in testing.”
On a rainy Tuesday morning, Annemarie Bono, a third grade pre-service teacher, showed her students a book with illustrations of the different colors and patterns in traditional African dress.
“Who can tell me what a pattern is?” she asked. After a few guesses from the students, one girl raised her hand and said, “It’s when you do colors over and over again.”
Bono nodded and said that there could also be number patterns and letter patterns and even patterns to the activities the students do in a day. “In the African culture I found a lot of bead patterns,” she said. Another little girl raised her hand. “My mom has a patterned necklace that’s black and white,” she said.
Bono showed the children photos of beaded necklaces and bracelets and then handed out small bags of plastic beads. She encouraged the children to make a pattern like the one she was making.
“I want to see if you can follow my pattern,” Bono told the children. “I have a green bead and I have a blue bead. You can use whatever colors you want as long as you follow my pattern. Now I have another green and I have another blue.”
The children bent over their desks, recreating the pattern in bright pinks, oranges and reds.
Down the hall, in Kristan Spencer’s fifth-grade classroom, students were figuring out a logic problem on a screen at the front of the classroom: “Jel, Shekera, Doal and Abiel were the first four finishers in the race. Jel did not come in first. Shekera finished before Jel….”
Spencer then passed out a sheet with different country’s flags and a separate sheet with the names of the countries. As the children cut the flags out, they chattered about the ones they recognized from home. One little boy pointed out that Vietnam has two flags, and Spencer asked him if he knew which was on the sheet. “That’s North. The South is yellow and has three lines,” he said.
Spencer then put up another logic problem: “The Sudanese and Egyptian flags have black on them. The flags for Vietnam and Panama both have stars….” The students had to use logic to match the country names with the right flag.
Schmidt said teachers learned to implement the program after attending an in-service conference at the school led by Viola Paris. Schmidt supervised the writing of Paris’s master’s thesis on ethnomathematics at Le Moyne College and said she became very excited about the idea.
“The whole acculturation idea makes everyone share in the learning process,” Schmidt said, “the students, the teachers, everyone.”
Another part of the reason Schmidt said she’s so excited is the opportunity to build on connections between one another as Jesus encouraged everyone to do in the Gospel. “I really believe it’s what Jesus would do,” she said.