Alliance of Indigenous Math Circles

by Math For Love

The Alliance of Indigenous Math Circles is devoted to supporting mathematical culture within indigenous communities.  We form partnerships throughout the U.S. in order to build local opportunities for students, teachers, and families to enjoy mathematics and engage in problem solving together, while also celebrating their indigenous cultural identity.  Our key activities include establishing math circle programs for indigenous pre-college students and their teachers, organizing student summer camps, running community mathematics festivals, and facilitating visits from mathematicians and other math professionals.  Through these activities, we aim to increase access to STEM educational and career pathways for indigenous pre-college students.

Most of our activities follow the math circle model in which participants collaboratively engage with open-ended “low-floor, high-ceiling” problems that can be simply stated and are accessible to a wide range of learners to explore at their own pace.  At the same time, these problems are embedded in fertile mathematical terrain so that continued investigation often leads to significant mathematical concepts and even open research questions.  Rather than work within standardized curricula, we aim for our participants to authentically experience the joy and power of mathematical thinking and to understand mathematics as a part of their cultural heritage.  We also support teachers in indigenous communities as they form and maintain math circles within their own schools.  

To facilitate these efforts, the Alliance maintains a network that brings together a team of six regional coordinators (teacher champions) who are embedded in indigenous communities and who work to organize events and recruit participants, hundreds of teachers, our advisory board, and the professional mathematics community, including more than 50 mathematicians and two NSF-funded mathematics institutes, the American Institute of Mathematics and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute.  We form robust networks of support that empower a culture of mathematics that is diverse, inclusive, and powerful.  Trust is our most valuable asset—we only go where we are invited, and we honor our commitments and relationships.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, our 2020 activities have been held remotely.  These include:

  • Online workshops for indigenous teachers and teachers of indigenous students to introduce tools that can be used for remote teaching and learning, organized with generous support from AIM;  to explore a framework for developing numerical literary in students in grades 3 – 12;  and to examine issues of social justice that arise when working with indigenous mathematics students.
  • A biweekly set of mathematical games and puzzles that are distributed to students and their families for enjoyment and to build community through an accompanying Facebook group.
  • Supporting a math teacher on the Navajo reservation in her efforts to indigenize her school’s curriculum.  Students will learn within an integrated STEAM curriculum whose themes are firmly grounded in Navajo culture and tradition.  

While our efforts to this point have mostly been focused in the Four Corners area, we are extending our network into Oklahoma and Alaska.  As we look ahead to 2021, we hope to return to in-person workshops and camps offering: a week-long summer camp for grade 7-12 students at Navajo Preparatory School in Farmington, NM; a two-week hybrid summer camp for teachers and students at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM; conducting a math circle at and supporting student and teacher travel to the annual conference of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society; a non-residential camp in Anadarko, Oklahoma; and a summer camp in Alaska.  

In addition, the Alliance will support teams of mathematicians as they spend a week visiting indigenous schools to share math circle sessions with students and teachers, who engage in a form of embedded professional development.  We are planning four visits to the Four Corners area, two to Oklahoma, and one to Alaska.  

The Alliance provides complete financial support for all our events.  There is never a fee for students or teachers to participate so that cost does not restrict access to our programs.

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