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Ethnomathematics and its Diverse Approaches for Mathematics Education

Milton Rosa, Lawrence Shirley, Maria Elena Gavarrete, and Wilfredo V. Alangui, editors
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
ICME-13 Monographs
[Reviewed by
Amy L. Smith
, on

Ethnomathematics and its Diverse Approaches for Mathematics Education is an anthology of current research in the field of ethnomathematics. Aimed at exploring the theory and practice of ethnomathematics, the text further considers how mathematics can be used to develop culturally responsive teaching.

This monograph is arranged in six parts, four thematic sections and an introduction and conclusion. The introduction offers a general overview of ethnomathematics, what it is and how it can be used both effectively and ineffectively in classrooms. Part two presents field research from three studies, describing varying methodologies of ethnomathematics research in various communities, such as the refusal of recording devices by Bedouin elders (Chapter 2) and the implications of researchers and participants speaking the same language (Chapter 3).

Part three describes pedagogical actions of ethnomathematics teaching with the intention of making “mathematics meaningful for students” (Sharma & Orey, 2017, p. 153, Chapter 7). One such study explaining how the funds of knowledge of preschoolers in Roma communities became essential in the creation of a “bottom up” curriculum (Chapter 5). Part four illustrates how diverse cultures understand and perform mathematical tasks in distinct ways. The four articles in this section focus on the ways in which mathematics is culturally relevant and thus, the need for culturally responsive teaching practices.

The final thematic section (Part 5) describes the development of ethnomathematics from cultural anthropological theory to mathematical education practice, including how integrating ethnomathematics into current practice is different from creating ethnomathematic curricula (Chapter 12) and the use of ethnomodelling, where educators work with students to promote sociocultural mathematical experiences in pursuit of socially just learning opportunities (Chapter 14). The conclusion connects the thirteen articles by theme: “mathematics of cultural groups, classroom applications, cross-cultural situations, and theoretical basis of ethnomathematics” (p. 357), and expresses the importance of ethnomathematics research in the continued quest for equitable teaching and learning.

Taken as a whole, this book is quite dense. Because each chapter (apart from the conclusion) is a self-contained article, there is a level of repetition among the articles in defining ethnomathematics research and theory, particularly in the first half of the text (Chapters 1–7). Chapters 2–11 each present research of specific cultural communities, including cultural artifacts of both the Chundara and Rai communities of Nepal (Chapter 6 and 7 respectively), visuospatial reasoning of the indigenous peoples of Papua New Guinea (Chapter 9), and lodge building of the Penobscot tribe of North America (Chapter 12). The remaining chapters are more aimed at the study of ethnomathematics as a field of research, its conceptualization, and praxis. The conclusion (Chapter 15) summarizes the entirety of the text.

Readers may benefit from reading the conclusion first, then delving into the remaining articles based on their interest. This may also be helpful given that the text is divided in the four previously mentioned parts, but these are different than the four themes identified in the conclusion. The book may have been more logically organized in two parts: Studies of Ethnomathematics Practice (Chapters 2–11) and Theories of Ethnomathematics (Chapters 1 and 12–14).

Overall, this book has a lot to offer the field of mathematics education, though it seems more directed at researchers than classroom teachers. The diversity of content makes the text a must-have for those interested in study of ethnomathematics. It would also be useful for preservice teachers, not as a textbook per say, but as a resource to introduce cultural influences in mathematics learning.

Amy Smith is a doctoral student in Mathematics Education at the University of Colorado, Denver. Her research interests include how children understand time and the funds of knowledge children bring with them to the classroom. 

See the table of contents in the publisher's webpage.