Transcript: Knowledge leader - Chris Matthews

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Transcript: Knowledge leader - Chris Matthews

My name is Dr Chris Matthews, and I'm the Chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Maths Alliance.

We tend to perceive mathematics as being something that is only done by really start people, the elite people, but this is not true. The thing that we have to change our minds around is the fact that mathematics is part of us as people. All cultures had forms of mathematics that were inside of their language and the way they see the world, it's a part of it.

It doesn't have to be the 1 + 1 = 2 or x + y = 6. It doesn't have to look like that, it can look like many different things. 

Even when we're here right now in the middle of the bush here, mathematics exists everywhere. There's maths in how a plant grows, there's maths in how seeds are packed into a flower head, there's mathematics in the spiral of a pine cone, and there's maths even in just how water flows through the soils. 

We need to teach students how they can see maths around them in the world, and from experiencing - seeing it around the world that they're in, they can then bring that to the classroom, talk about it within their own language, within the way they see the world, and then actually do different expressions of what that means for them. And all those expressions can then be related to mathematics itself.

One technique I did do with a group of students was that they had a beautiful song about an insect. So as they sang the song, we talked about the insect. And then I challenged them, say well tell me all the numbers you see in this insect. And they started doing this magnificent things, like they started to say there's six legs, there's three parts of the body. 

And one little brilliant child who was very young put up their hand and said I see a half, and I said how do you see half? And she said well if you draw a line down the middle, you've got three legs on one side and three legs on the other side, and she saw that as being half.

So the natural curiosity of children is a real asset in this space, and hopefully when we teach it from earlier years, that curiosity will be maintained as we go.

Other educators have engaged in things like a family maths day, where they bring parents, aunties, uncles, cousins, whoever, in on a day with their children, to engage in mathematics. Because once you start entering into that community space, you also will then allow community people to express their understanding of the environment and the country they belong too as well. 

Then you're sort of bringing the two worlds together, where you have this mathematical world, the way they see the world; you have an Aboriginal way of seeing the world, and then you're starting to build that bridge to connect them to, by actually bringing them together on that one spot.