Aug 9, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Canadians recently observed Indigenous Peoples Day, which celebrates the unique heritage, culture, and achievements of the country’s Aboriginal people. Now comes news of an initiative that’s been helping Indigenous high school students in British Columbia succeed in math. Here’s a closer look at the innovative Match Catcher program, as recently reported by The Globe and Mail.

A Common Struggle

While many students are vexed by high school math, Indigenous students face unique challenges. According to one report, just two percent of B.C.’s aboriginal population passed Grade 12 math -- compared to 25 percent of the population at large.

Former participant Reinelda Sankey told The Globe and Mail of her decision not to pursue Grade 12 math because of her struggles in Grade 11, “It was really frustrating and I felt doubtful of my abilities as a student and what I thought I was capable of. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next.”

Enter the Math Catcher outreach program. Designed by university math professor Veselin Jungic, Math Catcher integrates Indigenous storytelling, traditions and culture into math courses thereby connecting mathematical concepts with culture.

The Outreach Imperative

Says Jungic, “It is not a question of a lack of talent or a lack of interest for mathematics and science among aboriginal students. It is rather how do we reach out to those people who come from those rural, small communities...how do we reach out to those people to really explore and develop their talent?”

“My experience with Indigenous storytellers taught me that if I want to communicate mathematics to a non-mathematician, it’s better if I tell a story...It works like magic. You see students getting engaged and enjoying himself, “ he continues.

So is it working? While Jungic says the effort will take time, the hope is that the program will engage more students and encourage them to pursue mathematics studies.

 

Meanwhile, Sankey, who recently graduated from college with a BS in health sciences with plans to attend medical school, reports that Match Catcher program altered her life’s trajectory. “I realized I was capable of being good at math. It changed my perspective as a student and as a learner,” she reveals.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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