At the NNETESOL Conference, Professor Tim Whiteford wrote a simple subtraction problem on the board. Or at least it looked simple until he explained the procedures a Bosnian student might use to solve it, which were different than those usually taught in U.S. schools. After three explanations, there was still confusion among the participants in the room, even though he was explaining in English to native English speakers.
This was just one of many eye-opening differences Professor Whiteford highlighted to demonstrate potential difficulties–in addition to the language–ELLs might encounter when confronted with “our” math. Students from other countries often enter our school systems with different procedural, conceptual, and cultural knowledge of math. The more we recognize and understand this, the more effective we will be as teachers. Professor Whiteford has created a website to provide more information and serve as a resource for teachers. Click here to access his site and get a copy of a Cultural Math Interview. We are also looking into the possibility of having him at a future workshop.