Results are in from a country-wide contest among First Nations students in grades four and five and show that mathematics is fun at Miyo Wahkohtowin elementary school on the Ermineskin First Nation in Hobbema.
Grade five students Amarae Young and Daidrien Buffalo placed second and third, respectively, in the Wiseman Mathematics contest which has participants from First Nations in six provinces.
“(The students) enjoyed the competition and participation at a national level, and the idea they may win cash awards was extra incentive, too,” said Trina Ertman, numeracy coordinator, who was instrumental in implementing the program at the Miyo Wahkohtowin elementary school last spring.
“It was very First-Nations based so the school recognized it was an opportunity to do math problems that reflected their culture,” said Ertman, pointing out that the grades four and five students who participated in the Wiseman Mathematics contest were excited about participating in the activity.
First Nations content in the Wiseman Mathematics Contest is important, said Dr. Arzu Sardarli, who introduced the contest when he joined First Nations University of Canada in 2007.
Sardarli, assistant professor of physics and mathematics at FNUC Prince Albert Campus, said there are numerous differences in the methods and terminology used in the Wiseman Mathematics Contest. First Nations content is obvious in the questions as well, with names common to the culture and problems centering on hunting, fishing or other traditional practices.
“First we had to find some funding as there is no registration fee for the students to pay. Thanks to NSERC and their PromoScience program, we were able to accomplish that,” said Sardarli. “Schools in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba were the first participants but they’ve now been joined by students from British Columbia, Ontario, and Nova Scotia.”
Prizes include modest cash amounts as well as recognition for best school and possible attendance at the awards ceremony, which were held in Prince Albert on Nov. 21.
All schools received advance notice of the upcoming contest.
“Once we know how many students are involved, we send out the materials and they take the test, usually towards the end of the school year, and return to us for marking,” Sardarli said.
Four years ago 11 schools with 200 students participated. This year the number has grown significantly with 39 schools and 869 students. The students are motivated and feel good about their participation and achievement in the activity.
The too-common idea that mathematics cannot be fun has been overcome.
“With the First Nations names and cultural content, it meant a lot to the students,” said Ertman. “This year we are going to get more classrooms involved as we have three grades four and five classes. Now there is more awareness and the students are excited and ready to go!”