Math and science lecture series completes sixth year

“What does culture have to do with mathematics? How does culture impact our thinking about teaching and learning in schools?” PSU Professor Swapna Mukhopadhyay used these questions to create a dialog for educators to think about how they approach math and science instruction.

In partnership with the PSU Diversity Action Council, the GSE, and in 2009 collaborated with, Portland Community College and PSU’s Native American Studies, Dr. Mukhopadhyay created Alternative forms of knowledge construction, a lecture series that began in 2006 to examine math and science and their teaching/learning from ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic perspectives; sometimes called, ‘ethnomathematics.’ Since 2009, she has partnered with Ann Sitomer of Portland Community College to continue the series.

The series takes an in-depth look at math and science practices in a variety of current and historical settings and offers alternative perspectives to mainstream approaches to teaching in these fields. “It’s an important contribution to Portland State’s goal of understanding diversity especially related to teaching and learning,” says PSU Provost Roy Koch, an avid supporter of the series.

Topics in the series span a wide variety of themes that are informative to both preservice and experienced educators—indeed to everyone interested in education, as was evident in the variety of attendees at this public series. For wider dissemination, all the lectures have been videotaped and streamed for. Currently, Dr. Mukhopadhyay is completing an edited volume that grew out of the lecture series.

As an example of the richness of the topics addressed, Dr. Mukhopadhyay highlights these presenters:

  • Dr. Gary Urton, Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Pre-Columbian Studies at Harvard University, presented An integrated science of strings, colors, knots, and numbers in the ancient Andes. He examined a system of knotted strings called ‘Khipu,’ developed by the Incas, to record statistical and historical data.
  • Dr. Marta Civil, from the University of Arizona, contributed a seminar on: Listening to Latina/o parents: Implications for equity in mathematics education. She has studied the impact of Latina/o parental and family views on children’s learning. To facilitate parents as resources, she leads Tertulias, (small study groups for the parents), around the current topics in their students’ classrooms.
  • Chris Jordan, a Seattle-based photographer, explored his own escape from a career as a corporate lawyer to an artist. His photography examines what he calls The relationships of the individual to the collective. He began by seeking colorful subjects that interested him aesthetically, but soon learned about and photographed the staggering scale of American mass consumption.

“[We are] validating diversity, not only in skin color or language, but also in worldviews,” says Dr. Mukhopadhyay, who has written widely on ethnomathematics. She is currently conducting research on Bengali boat-builders in India, who work with a few simple tools and no blueprints to produce sophisticated 60-foot ocean-worthy fishing vessels.

“Swapna and her colleagues are in the process of changing the world,” says Dr. Rochelle Gutierrez, presenter and associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

View past lectures

The entire collection of 19 lectures has been recorded and is available on the website. Educators will find them thought-provoking and rich in content.

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