Integrating culture, tradition and … math

Stavros Stavrou, 2014 recipient of the USSU Young Alumni Excellence Award
Stavros Stavrou, 2014 recipient of the USSU Young Alumni Excellence Award

With the simple logic and efficiency you would expect from a mathematician, Stavros Stavrou (BSc'10, MSc'12) explained that if you want to teach math, you should study math and education.

"I was always good at math, and I like to teach," said Stavrou, the 2014 recipient of the USSU Young Alumni Excellence Award.

Having already obtained his bachelors and master of science degrees in mathematics from the U of S, Stavrou is now working toward a master of education degree in hopes of earning a university faculty position.

Stavrou is already well on his way in his teaching career. As the science outreach leader for PotashCorp's Kameskenow program and for the College of Arts and Science's outreach office, he helps deliver fun and engaging math and science activities. His job is to keep students at Saskatoon community schools on task and focused, which can require a fresh outlook on traditional teaching and an innovative approach to its delivery.

He is also the First Nations, Inuit and Métis math outreach coordinator for the Department of Mathematics at the U of S, teaching math in Saskatoon community schools that have a broad range of students.

How is teaching math to Aboriginal students different? "It's approaching things from a different perspective. They have ways of living and knowing that are different, that aren't necessarily a western perspective." So, to make lessons interesting and relatable takes a unique approach.

"I lift things from their culture that they would be familiar with. So, in geometry, for shapes we can relate to a tipi—the base is a circle, and the object is a cone. Or the medicine wheel, which is a circle; so we're connecting with their tradition."

Stavrou works closely with teachers, elders and other community leaders to create activities and lesson plans that connect the math curriculum to traditional First Nations, Inuit and Métis teaching and culture.

With the help of Cree teacher Norma Bear (BEd'93), Stavrou is not just incorporating symbols and traditions into teaching. The pair is working together to incorporate Cree language into the math program at St. Frances School in Saskatoon. Their work was showcased at a First Nation's Language Keepers Conference in 2013, and Stavrou was awarded a certificate for his work as a language keeper.

"We're learning to count in Cree, to know the different Cree characters for the numerals," said Stavrou. "It expands their language and what they know about their culture. I've started saying them too, but I don't know all of them yet." And the children point out he has a different accent.

Demand for Stavrou to be in more classrooms is growing, and he is confident the temporary funding will continue to allow more instructors to work with more teachers in more schools. And they may just inspire the next generation of students who are good math and enjoy teaching.

Stavrou will receive his award at the annual USSU award reception on March 30.

Learn more about the USSU Young Alumni Excellence Award
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