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Ethnomathematics: a Multicultural View of Mathematical Ideas Reflective Essay

Humanistic mathematics is a rather complex subject; it provides the learners with a lot of challenges and allows them to exercise their mind making it more flexible and sharp. Unfortunately, this subject is not something everyone is fond of. Mathematics is normally viewed as a boring and incredibly difficult study.

This course shifted my perspective on math shedding light on its sides that used to be unknown to me. Humanistic mathematics course has been one of the most inspiring courses I have ever attended as a mathematician. What I learnt during this course altered my perception of human mind and abilities.

First of all, I found out that the so-called “math gene” does not exist. The belief that some people are better at mathematics than others is nothing but a popular myth. Everyone is able to exercise their mathematical skills and improve them.

Solving mathematical problems, playing board games, applying strategic and logical thinking are good ways to become better at mathematics. Challenging one’s own brain stimulates its growth and makes it more flexible (Byers 28).

One more idea I learnt during this course is that self-motivation is very important in mathematics (Byers 54). One should not give up after a mistake; on the contrary, making mistakes is the only way to learn. Problem solving is not about speed, but depth. Math is also not about fast thinking, but deep thinking.

One’s academic success in mathematics is defined by how creative and flexible one is. Mathematics is present in every culture, yet the approaches towards it vary. Members of different cultures use materials around them to build numerical guides such as the Incan quipus (Ascher 43).

Finally, during this course I learnt to think of mathematics as a connected subject. This means that all mathematical theories relate to one another. Besides, sense and intuition play a big role in mathematics, because math is about patterns. A mathematician has to apply logical reasoning to be able to solve problems.

Mathematical reasoning thus forms one of the basic pillars of individuals’ success in math (Boaler 76). A few facts surprised me during this course. First was the number of people uninterested in mathematics in America. The way mathematics is presented in the American schools makes a lot of people develop negative attitude towards it.

Secondly, I was surprised to find out that math skills are not determined by any genes, they are not something people are born with, but something they obtain through practice turning their fixed mindsets into flexible ones.

Boaler’s “What’s Math Got to Do with It?” and “Math Through the Ages” by Berlinghoff and Gouvea were the readings that made me react the most as they made me understand I had a fixed mindset. After realizing this, I started to exercise more in order to evolve as a mathematician.

I am now aware that mistakes are good in mathematics. This was very encouraging and motivating because it made me believe that every mistake I make brings me closer to success. These readings depicted math as an exciting and vivid subject where one may apply intuition, use drawings, speak out the problems.

This approach allows one to use creativity and critical thinking in math. The application of critical thinking helped me identify the ideas I valued and the ones I disagreed with in the readings.

For example, I disagree with Boaler on traditional ways of teaching math (Boaler 38). To my mind, traditional and modern ways of teaching should be combined in order to form a new approach towards the techniques of teaching this tricky subject without dividing the class into people that “have the brain for math” and the people that do not.

In “A Mathematician’s Apology”, Hardy classifies mathematics as a young man’s game. I am convinced that anybody can be creative in mathematics regardless of their age. As a Muslim, I completely disagree with Murad Jurdak’s “In Religion and Language as Cultural Carriers and Barriers in Mathematics Education”.

Having been brought up in an Islamic environment, I find no teachings that impede the study and growth of mathematics. I was really surprised to learn how Arabs contributed to mathematics and its growth in the past. It made me wonder why we, the current Arabian mathematicians, cannot make any constructive contribution.

It goes without saying that math is a complex subject, which becomes easier to study through practice. I found this course very helpful because it fights stereotypes such as women’s inability to perform well in math. During this course it became clear that the idea to teach women softer versions of mathematics sounds rather judgmental.

This made me think about societal stereotypes, because math, which is one of the most objective studies, seems to be also one of the most prejudiced. This course taught me that math is a living, breathing, and all-consuming subject and it changed my relationship towards math.

I respect math for its applicability in life, yet, everyone seems to view this subject from different perspective and value various aspects of it. Some are interested in shapes while others in the ways problems are solved and how that could be proved (Gutstein 64). The course was very inspiring for me, taking it I started to encourage others to change their stereotypes about mathematics.

During the course there were aspects that went especially well for me. For instance, books and videos were very interesting. I was very pleased with the information rich MTA. It was really deep and appreciated the history of mathematics (Berlinghoff & Gouvea 43).

Class activities were also fascinating and could easily change a person’s view towards mathematics. Both HMT and “A Mathematician’s Apology” offered insights on the greatness of mathematics and pure mathematics respectively. This made me value and appreciate mathematics more than ever.

Finally, Boaler’s view that women are naturally inclined towards communication and connection making greatly resonated and inspired me. These natural features make female learners potentially stronger at math that their male peers. Unfortunately, most female students drop mathematics due to the misrepresentation of mathematics generated in American schools.

In my opinion, MOOC was the most important part of this course, so if the instructor were to teach this course again, I would recommend that MOOC part is emphasized and enhanced. Ideas I learnt from MOOC touched me deeply and stuck in my head, the material was straight to the point and every single bit of information was valuable for me.

In the world of nowadays employing MOOCs is very progressive and provides an instructor with new techniques of teaching on the distance and also teaches students how to learn math. MOOC for this course was very strong, I appreciate it for the knowledge I gained from it.

In conclusion, I think mathematics should be promoted in schools and the research in this field should be oriented at finding new techniques of teaching math and creating equality in the classrooms instead of portraying this subject as something no everyone was born to understand.

After all, a mind developed to solve complex mathematical problems is more flexible and provides an individual with a number of benefits not only at school but in personal everyday life too.

Works Cited

Ascher, Marcia. Ethnomathematics: A Multicultural View of Mathematical Ideas. New York: CRC Press, 1994. Print.

Berlinghoff, William & Fernando Gouvea. Math Through the Ages: A Gentle History for Teachers and Others. Expanded ed. Washington: Oxton House, 2004. Print.

Boaler, Jo. What’s Math Got to Do With It? How Parents and Teachers Can Help Children Learn to Love Their Least Favorite Subject. New York: Viking, 2008. Print.

Byers, William. How Mathematicians Think: Using Ambiguity, Contradiction and Paradox to Create Mathematics. Georgia: Princeton University Press, 2010. Print.

Gutstein, Eric. Reading and Writing the World with Math. Milwaukee: Routledge, 2012. Print.

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IvyPanda. "Ethnomathematics: a Multicultural View of Mathematical Ideas." August 12, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/ethnomathematics/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Ethnomathematics: a Multicultural View of Mathematical Ideas." August 12, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/ethnomathematics/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Ethnomathematics: a Multicultural View of Mathematical Ideas'. 12 August.

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