Governor asks; UH responds with a bonus

Transforming tradition and cultural practices into engaging, relevant math lessons
Local teachers, under the direction of Dr. Deb Zuercher and others from the U.H. graduate School of Education, have been working this summer at Tafuna Elementary, creating culturally relevant mathematics as an effective way to teach math to the children of American Samoa. [courtesy photo]

The University of Hawaii teacher education program is earnestly responding to the Governor’s request to bring more academic content instruction to American Samoa, and they are doing so with a novel teaching concept using ‘contextualized content courses’ that have a distinctly Samoan flavor. 
According to Dr. Deb Zuercher of the University of Hawaii’s College of Education, the contextualized content courses are a big bonus for engaging students and teachers.
Math, Science and English are the targeted areas.
Dr. Zuercher, as project director for the Territorial Teacher Training Apprenticeship Project  told Samoa News that UH Instructor and doctoral candidate, Paul Tauiliili, is working with Samoan teachers to develop engaging and relevant teaching materials that make use of traditional Samoan activities such as fishing, farming, cooking, building – as well as fine arts activities, including dancing, painting, and weaving – to teach mathematics to the children of American Samoa.
Dr. Zuercher refers to it as “ethnomath” and her enthusiasm for it matches Tauiliili’s.
“Samoans have traditionally been great at doing practical mathematics; they just did not call what they were doing math,” says Tauiliili. “Ratios, quantity comparisons, fractions, proportions, and time measurement are a few of the mathematical concepts that are taught through exploration of traditional Samoan farming and cooking. The time required to weave a coconut food- gathering basket can be used as a measurement tool in timing the cooking of the umu, for example.”
As part of their instruction in using traditional activities to teach mathematics, teachers participated in time-honored methods of extracting the o’a dye, used in traditional siapo dyes and tatooing ink, from trees close to the Tafuna Elementary classroom, where their course has been taught this summer.
 The processes involved in the creation of traditional tatau, malu, and siapo (tapa) artwork are used to teach measurement, reflection, rotation, and other geometry concepts, according to Tauiliili.
The courses UH offers are a result of the work being done through the MACIMISE (Mathematics and Culture in Micronesia: Integrating Societal Experiences) program, which is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). MACIMISE is a partnership between Pacific Resources for Education and Learning (PREL) and the University of Hawai’i, Manoa. The project is led by Dr. A.J. Dawson and supported by seven internationally recognized mathematics educators.
Ethnomathematic classroom lessons are being developed by twenty-two indigenous mathematicians for Pacific island students in grades one, four and seven and will be piloted by indigenous educators in their local community schools in American Samoa, CNMI, Guam, RMI, Kosrae, Palau, Chuuk, Pohnpei, Yap, and Hawai’i.
According to Tauiliili, “One of the driving forces of the project is the idea that traditional mathematics is part of a community’s identity – our ancestors in American Samoa were using mathematics in dozens of ways that are still useful today.”
  University of Hawai’i and the leaders of the MACIMISE program believe that using culturally relevant mathematics is an effective way to teach math to the children of the Pacific Island Nations, and that this “ethno-mathematics” can – and should be – preserved though the development and implementation of classroom lessons for elementary and middle level children.
According to Tauiliili, “this culturally-embedded mathematics curriculum… has a two-fold emphasis …to get teachers to discover and explore the fundamental mathematical skills and knowledge of our ancestors and to revive the importance of Samoan tradition, culture, and language.”
Another aim of the MACIMISE program is to offer advanced degree opportunities to indigenous mathematics educators, who transform what they find in local cultural practices into mathematics curriculum.
As part of the advanced degree program for indigenous mathematicians, 12 MACIMISE participants were awarded Masters degrees this year, and ten others – including Tauvela Fale and Paul Tauiliili from American Samoa – are expected to be awarded Doctorate degrees in May of 2014.
The University of Hawai’i (UH) partners with the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) where candidates complete academic content courses as part of their Associate Arts or Associate Arts in Teaching degrees.
“Place-based and culturally relevant science lessons, such as the science involved in the Fautasi races, would engage students and teachers in ethno-science explorations relevant to the Pacific region. UH is seeking National Science Foundation Grants with partners like National Parks Samoa to explore climate change, health, indigenous species and other educational issues of critical importance to the youth of American Samoa,” Dr. Zuercher added. 
Ethnomathematics, support from the National Science Foundation for place-based and culturally relevant science education, and the American Samoa Department of Education director Vaitinasa Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau’s research-based bilingual Samoan and English literacy initiative all line up, ‘like the beautiful symmetry of siapo’, concluded the project director.