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My Journey with Aboriginal Education – Including Math!

My Journey with Aboriginal Education


I recently spent a couple of weeks teaching several classes and groups of teachers the First Nations game Lahal (Slahal). I’d like to share it with you as it was well received in all of the classrooms (grades 6-8) that I visited and it is a great way to integrate First People’s perspectives and history into math class!

I’d like to share a small piece of my learning journey, with respect to Aboriginal education before I jump into this fun and engaging game. As a non-indigenous teacher, I have been feeling very torn for the past few years because I really want to work towards learning and teaching the truth of Canada’s history and also be a part of reconciliation. I am torn because I’ve never been very sure about what my specific role should and shouldn’t be. I was afraid of appropriating, misinforming and to be honest didn’t feel like I knew enough to authentically teach about First People’s cultures and world views.

I’ve been extremely fortunate to have some great mentors in the past few years that have helped me tremendously, not only in gaining more insight and understanding of our shared history but also how I can be an ally and educator of these important concepts.

I’d like to acknowledge those who have helped me along the way; Nella Nelson, Paola Bell, Craig Shellenberg, and Sarah Rhude, all of whom are part of the ANED team at school district 61 (we are very lucky!). I’d also like to raise my hands to Eddy Charlie and Kristin Spray who have inspired me and shared so much of their experiences and teachings with me. Eddy and Kristin started Orange Shirt Day Victoria and have presented at Cedar Hill school twice. They have introduced me to other inspirational people such as Phyllis Jack-Webstad and Bear Horne. It is because of these people that I have become passionate about working towards a much needed change in education. I strongly believe it is all of our responsibility to be properly educated about the Indian Act, residential schools, the 60’s scoop and the long lasting effects of these atrocities on First Nations cultures, communities, families and individuals. I know very little at present but the more I learn, the more passionate I become.

For the past year and a half I’ve been trying to authentically integrate more First People’s content and perspectives of learning into math lessons. I’ve been stymied for much of that time. However, I’ve learned a few things: most importantly, I’ve learned that teaching math in the way that I do (and how my lesson plans are structured on Educating Now) is aligned with First People’s principles of learning. When we allow for students to make meaning, draw, talk about their ideas, construct their own ways of understanding and doing math, we are honouring them and their learning process. If you look at the First People’s principles of learning you will see that most of them promote teaching practices that are best for all learners (in other words, they are simply ‘good teaching’). Furthermore, when we change the WAY we teach we will make far more of an impact on improving student achievement than focusing on content.

Lahal Game

So, if you are in a similar position, where you
are wondering how on earth to integrate aboriginal education into your
math class as it is prescribed by our curriculum, I encourage you to
start by engaging in the math curricular competencies (the way in which
we are teaching math).

As for integrating content authentically,
I’ve done a few things thus far. I partnered with a colleague who was
doing a native plants unit with his students and we looked at some of
the math involved such as: area and perimeter of the park, measuring and
charting growth of Camus, finding approximate ratios of native to
invasive species in the park. Next, I took a great resource: Star
Navigation, which is based in Alaska, and created a local version that
incorporated: angles, ratios, navigation, and the solar system aimed at
grade 6 (their Science curriculum involves the solar system so there was
some nice cross curricular connections). My most recent lesson sequence
was Lahal. I feel like the Lahal lesson is easily taught and can be
used (with adaptations) at grades 4-8. It is also one of the suggestions
in our curriculum (in the elaborations).

If you are a teacher in the Greater Victoria School District, there are
3 kits that can be borrowed from the ANED resource center (they include
tapes with the music so you’ll need a tape player!). Because this game
was also played by semi-nomadic tribes, pre-made kits are not necessary.
You will need 5 sticks per team (tally or score keeping sticks) and
then two sets of ‘bones’. Popsicle sticks could be used for this. We are
going to make some Lahal kits at our school and will likely use some
small dowel pieces for the bones and then we will sand and paint our
tally sticks out of scrap cedar. Students could easily go outside to
gather their sticks but you’ll want to plan ahead for the bones or you
could use rocks and just put tape around two of them (ensure they are
small enough to fit into students’ hands).


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