math collaboration
Students use pencil crayons to colour in their design
pattern, deciding on a core and how it will repeat.

A new collaboration is teaching students about Métis culture in an unexpected context: math class.

Synthesizing Métis beading techniques with mathematic charts and formulas, students are engaging both right and left brain as they learn to weave their very own beaded bracelets.

Introduced as a pilot project in May 2018 to a fifth grade class in the Upper Grand District School Board, it was an immediate success. The program is a collective effort between project founder Ruth Beatty, the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) Grand River Métis Council’s President Jennifer Parkinson and Treasurer Leslie Anne Muma, and other local leaders including math coach Bonnie Sears, and curriculum leader for First Nation Métis and Inuit education, Colinda Clyne. Together, they work to ensure a culturally sensitive, engaging and meaningful lesson.

Ruth Beatty, founder of the project, said the project demonstrates the connections between cultural designs and activities, such as beaded bracelets, and the math being taught in Ontario school’s curricula. In these projects, students explore loomwork (an Anishinaabe activity) but informed by principles of Métis design.

By applying a cultural dimension to the lessons, complex concepts like spatial reasoning, patterning and algebraic reasoning, and two-dimensional transformations become more accessible — and fun!

Along with an introductory lesson of the mathematical concepts, Métis leaders like Parkinson and Muma facilitate Métis-specific history discussions and lend their expertise to ensure that the cultural component to the lessons are equally represented.

While Muma provides various floral designs and potential patterns for the loom, Parkinson presents Métis 101 lessons to students.

“Going into these classrooms, we aim to provide students with an overview of Métis history and culture, which includes the symbolism of the materials used in loom beading, such as concepts like the ‘spirit bead’ or the significance of the animal hide necessary for lacing,” describes Parkinson.

Parkinson also remarks how students were so engrossed in their work that staff often had to remind them to take breaks to eat and exercise. But despite their intense concentration, the students were also quick to assist their peers, whether with the math or the beading, and frequently shared their appreciation with instructors.

“Some of the students we worked with last year stated that the project was the best thing they had done all year, and that was because of the learning from the Métis artists,” shared Beatty. “And the mathematics the students learn is done in a context of creating something important to them – so they care about figuring out how long their bracelet has to be, for example, or how to determine the unit of repeat and then reflect their design because it’s meaningful.”

The work being done in Upper Grand School District constitutes one of several research sites across Ontario. A five-day version of the program was recently held in January for a grade six class of 48 students and more upcoming workshops have also been scheduled for this spring.

Posted: May 8, 2019