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Preface Preface

The Math Catcher Outreach Program has been part of the British Columbia educational environment for almost ten years. Through more than 600 classroom visits, close to 100 workshops and journal, magazine, and newspapers articles, and a dozen of Small Number stories, the program has reached out to tens of thousands of students, educators, and members of the general public from across British Columbia, Canada, and around the world.

The program originated in the following two conclusions identified by the participants of the First Nations Math Education Workshop which was held in Banff, Alberta, in November 2009:

  • Teach math in the cultural context of the students,

  • Teach basic skills and problem-solving early.

In particular, storytelling by Ms. Rina Sinclair of the Siksika Nation, one of the elders who contributed to the workshop, inspired us to wish to apply the Indigenous tradition of storytelling as a vehicle to both communicate and promote some of the mathematical concepts.

Over the last ten years a series of short stories and animated films has been created. The stories have been narrated in the following languages: Blackfoot, Cree, English, French, Gitxsan, Halq'eméylem, Heiltsuk, Hul'q'umi'num', Huu-ay-aht, Nisga'a, Sliammon, Spanish, Squamish, and Wet'suwet'en.

The main character in all stories is a boy called Small Number. Small Number has an impressive aptitude for mathematics and also a proclivity for getting into mischief.

The Small Number stories and films incorporate problem-solving and Indigenous traditions. Just as importantly, the stories aim to promote Indigenous culture. Of course, Indigenous culture is not a singular, cohesive set of beliefs and practices, but a myriad of traditional and modern values and practices. As a result, Small Number's adventures take place in different physical contexts in different Indigenous communities, and yet the clever, playful protagonist remains the same.

The Math Catcher Program is strongly guided by the First Peoples Principles of Learning. For example, the principle that “Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place)” is the essence of the message that we try to communicate with all participants in our various events and activities.

Related to this is the fact that a significant challenge for math educators teaching children and young people is to convince them that mathematics is a relevant and not a solely abstract subject.

Many youths, when encountering abstract thinking for the first time, struggle to connect mathematical concepts to everyday life. One of the aims of the Math Catcher program, therefore, is to link mathematics to the “real world” through problem solving, stories, and hands on activities. This is why in all program's activities we demonstrate the following:

  • mathematics is applicable in real life and hence can be used to solve real-life problems;

  • young people like Small Number encounter mathematics and require knowledge of it on a daily basis;

  • mathematics can be interesting.

In addition, in accordance with another of the First Peoples Principles of Learning that says that “Learning involves generational roles and responsibilities” the Math Catcher activities and Small Number stories promote kin and friendship.

We hope to help teachers to encourage those bright students in their classes to decide to follow their talent and go with mathematics all the way... Is this too much to ask for? Or too little? And how will we know if we meet our hopes and make any changes? Maybe a hint of the answer to our dilemmas is in this philosophical and infinitesimal calculus spirited saying by Crowfoot, a chief of the Siksika First Nation,

What is life? It is a flash of a firefly in the night. It is a breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is as the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.

Veselin Jungic

The Math Catcher Outreach Program

Contact address: math_catcher@sfu.ca

In Burnaby, B.C., July 2021