Cultural mathematics

In Nunavik, research into the teaching of probability in mathematics has had unexpected consequences, leading to the engagement of the Inuit community and creating closer bonds between students and their grandparents.

Teaching probability begins at the elementary level in Nunavik schools. It is a topic that poses a major challenge, because the mathematical concept of probability is not defined in traditional Inuit culture, which accords greater importance to the idea of uncertainty.

The rallying of the community around the project helped the students to develop a new sense of cultural identity.

To facilitate the development of probabilistic reasoning, Annie Savard, a researcher in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University, developed an approach grounded in the cultural roots of the Inuit population. At the same time, the project provided an opportunity to study the students' critical thinking skills regarding gambling, and observe peer influence on students' perceptions. The researcher created a sequence of learning situations that lead to the development of probabilistic reasoning, based on traditional Inuit games.

This process aroused the students' curiosity about the games and the sociocultural contexts they represent, such as traditional nomad camp life and the struggle for survival. When they questioned their parents and realized that the latter were largely unable to provide any answers, they turned to their grandparents for more information. The rallying of the community around the project helped the students to develop a new sense of cultural identity, and the direction taken by the project—which was highly instructive from a mathematics education perspective—clearly shows that the meanings that students associate with certain concepts should not be ignored when teaching mathematics.

Further details about the learning situations developed in the context of the project can be found in the following scientific article published on the subject: