Arctic Field Projects

Project Title: The Potential Contribution of Indigenous Knowledge to Teaching and Learning Mathematics (Award# 1203194)

PI: Lipka, Jerry (
Phone: (907) 474.6439 
Institute/Department: U of Alaska, Fairbanks, School of Education 
IPY Project?
Funding Agency: US\Federal\NSF\GEO\OPP\ARC\ASSP
Program Manager: Dr. Anna Kerttula (
Discipline(s): | Social and Human Sciences\Cross-cultural Education | Social and Human Sciences\Ethnography | Social and Human Sciences\Linguistics | Social and Human Sciences\Mathematics Education |

Project Web Site(s):

Science Summary:
This is an interdisciplinary research project that focuses on collaborative, cross-cultural research into Indigenous knowledge systems via mathematics. The research team is made up of indigenous and non-indigenous researchers who will study the infusion of mathematics in Indigenous Knowledge systems (IKS) and studies how these mathematical knowledge systems are embedded and encoded into everyday activities. The central hypothesis of this project is that "embedded in traditional indigenous knowledge systems--within their worldview, their way of knowing, and their way of doing...are elegant solutions that are mathematically rich." (from star navigation, to patterns for clothing to building a kayak) The project will take place in three different arctic cultural, linguistic, and geographical regions: Yup'ik (Alaska), Inuit (Greenland), Sami (Norway/Sweden), Yap (Micronesia) and Koryak (Kamchatka, Russia) with a comparative site in Yap (a Federated State in Micronesia) as a control group. The project aims to do more than just document the ethnomathematics; the project will contextualize this kind of knowledge in broader cultural epistemologies and will also examine the indigenous pedagogies by which people learn the activities and the embedded mathematics. In addition to exploring mathematic conceptualizations the project will also record the language of mathematics, which is endangered among all of these groups and an aspect of language that is rarely captured by linguists working with endangered languages. Perhaps most importantly, it has the potential to add to human knowledge about how everyday problems and tasks are solved without using Western instrumentation; if similar mathematically-oriented processes are used across project sites this may well suggest will universal concepts rather than culturally particularlistic ones. Hence, this project has the potential to establish an alternative learning trajectory based on IKS for the teaching of mathematics in indigenous and non indigenous contexts.

Logistics Summary:
Starting in 2012 this three-year Arctic Social Science research proposal focuses on Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) and the embedded and encoded mathematics in everyday activity. Research on traditional IKS has not typically included how mathematically-oriented activity is part of IKS. This research program will systematically document the nature of mathematically oriented activity as it occurs in response to tasks and problem-solving associated with subsistence living. The project will take place in three different Arctic cultural, linguistic, and geographical regions—in Alaska with Yup’ik, in Norway and Sweden with Sami, and in Kamchatka with Koryak—and one site in Micronesia to provide a contrasting geographical, environmental, cultural, and linguistic site. Each cultural and geographical group will form insider/outsider teams, including a relationship with one Indigenous school per team and will explore in depth at least two and no more than three distinct tasks; one in each year of the project per team for a total of 8 to 12 focused cases. The teams will videotape the agreed upon-practices and tasks using a participant-observer stance, including observing, performing and learning the task, and appropriate questioning. All teams will then meet once a year in person and two times during the year via Skype or similar digital tool. In July 2013 Sami and Yup'ik teams will prepare DVD clips and will travel to Fairbanks or Norway to meet in October to discuss their findings. Workshops with the schools will occur in the fall/winter of 2014. Each site is composed of a small team. First round of field work will take place in Alaska in the fall of 2012; in Kamchatka late summer into fall, in Greenland in early December, Micronesia in November and Norway and Sweden TBD. The work in Alaska will have ongoing work as two of the team members are long-term Yup'ik colleagues. This work will be repeated yearly for the three years of this project.

All logistics will be organized by the researchers and paid through the grant.
SeasonField SiteDate InDate Out#People
2012Alaska - Anchorage10 / 31 / 2012 11 / 01 / 20122
2012Greenland - Sisimiut12 / 01 / 2012 12 / 05 / 20122
2012Russia - Kamchatka Peninsula08 / 01 / 2012 11 / 14 / 20122
2013Norway - Svalbard1
2013Russia - Kamchatka Peninsula1
2014Norway - Svalbard1
2014Russia - Kamchatka Peninsula1

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Parameters used to generate this report:, Grant# = "1203194", IPY = "ALL" 
     Number of projects returned based on your query parameters = 1