Dave Auckly, Bob Klein, Amanda Serenevy, Tatiana Shubin

Apr 27, 2021

Inspiring Mathematics

Lessons from the Navajo Nation Math Circles

American Mathematical Society 2019

Math circles defy simple narratives. The model was introduced a century ago, and is taking off in the present day thanks in part to its congruence with cutting-edge research in mathematics education. It is a modern approach to teaching—or facilitation—that resonates and finds mutual reinforcement with traditional practices and cultural preservation efforts. A wide range of math circle resources have become available for interested instructors, including the MSRI Math Circles Library, now in its 14th year of publication by the AMS.

I was excited to talk with three editors and contributors to a recent volume in the series, Inspiring Mathematics: Lessons from the Navajo Nation Math Circles (American Mathematical, 2019). Drs. Dave Auckly, Amanda Serenevy, and Henry Fowler have been instrumental to the Navajo Nation Math Circles Project, along with co-editors Tatiana Shubin and Bob Klein and a broader contact and support network. Their book showcases scripts developed and facilitated in Navajo Nation, including an introduction to modular arithmetic through bean bag tossing, prefix sorting in the guise of pancake flipping, and a tactile use of limiting behavior to folding a necktie. We discussed the origin and expansion of math circles, their potential to indigenous mathematics educators and students, and the content of and stories behind a selection of the scripts.

Dr. Fowler's foreword and the editors' introduction situate the math circles movement and the Navajo Nation Math Circles Project in history, geography, and culture. Each script begins with a (minimal!) list of the necessary materials and a student handout that invites explorations with them. A short survey of connections to deeper mathematics precedes each handout, and each is followed by an extensive teacher's guide with (illustrative) solutions and presentation suggestions. The scripts vary in complexity and are suitable for student- and teacher-focused math circles. I hope the text becomes widely adopted for science-based and culturally conscious mathematics education and helps introduce others like myself to the greater math circles project.

Suggested companion works:
-James Tanton

-The Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival

-Gordon Hamilton and Lora Saarnio, MathPickle
-Robert Kaplan and Ellen Kaplan, Out of the Labyrinth: Setting Mathematics Free
-Rachel and Rodi Steinig, Math Renaissance

Dave Auckly is a research mathematician at Kansas State University and Co-founder and Director of the Navajo Nation Math Circles Project. Amanda Serenevy is Co-founder and Director of the Riverbend Community Math Center. Henry Fowler is Associate Professor of Mathematics at Navajo Technical University and Co-director of the Navajo Nation Math Circles Project.

Cory Brunson is a Research Assistant Professor at the Laboratory for Systems Medicine at the University of Florida.

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Cory Brunson

Cory Brunson is a Research Assistant Professor at the Laboratory for Systems Medicine at the University of Florida. His research focuses on geometric and topological approaches to the analysis of medical and healthcare data. He welcomes book suggestions, listener feedback, and transparent supply chains.

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