New "Small Number" K-12 Math Learning Materials available

Burnaby resident Bethani L'Heureux pictured here with the poster she drew for the Math Catcher Festival, postponed to Fall 2020.

March 12, 2020

How did Small Number know that the 100th tipi is the one just south of his grandparents’ tipi without actually counting them? How wide was the Bear Tree? How can an artifact reveal its age? In how many days will Coyote catch the rabbit?

These are just some of the question that Small Number, a young Indigenous boy who has an impressive aptitude for mathematics, resolves in a series of stories that are created via SFU’s Math Catcher Outreach program.

SFU professor Veselin Jungic is the brains behind the program that encourages K-12 students to recognize how math forms the basis of many of our daily decisions.

He is particularly focused on Indigenous students and he uses storytelling, pictures, models, problem solving, and hands-on activities to help dispel myths that math is boring and irrelevant.  Jungic produces animated films in Cree, Blackfoot, Nisga’a and Squamish and several other First Nation languages to drive home his message.

In collaboration with fellow mathematician Mark MacLean and a group of talented Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, the team has produced 35 short movies centered around Small Number and his friends and family. 

For his most recent movies, Small Number and the Old Totem Pole and Small Number and the Four Rabbit Holes, Jungic collaborated with Burnaby resident Bethani L’Heureux , a member of the Cree Nation. The two met when she attended SFU’s High School Indigenous Summer camp, another of Jungic’s initiatives.

“Bethani is one of the most talented young people I know,” Jungic says. “I’m pleased that I was able to support her talent by hiring her to voice and create the art work for two films”.

L’Heureux recently graduated from Alpha Secondary school and eventually plans to pursue a career in voice acting or art. “Right now, I’m grateful to have the experience and a portfolio to show,” she says.

This fall, Grades 4-5 students in Metro Vancouver will be invited to create their own Small Numbers stories.  Registered classes will showcase their creations at an all-day workshop at SFU’s Burnaby campus. The free event will also include mathematical demonstrations, presentations of the different Small Number films and activities with members of the SFU Indigenous community.