Interdisciplinary studies and connections between different subject areas are of increased importance in today’s globalized world. Academic advisors who work in college/university settings have almost certainly witnessed a rise in the availability of interdisciplinary majors offered by their respective institutions. Schiro’s book is a testament to the necessity of a diverse educational background.
The author recounts two stories orally dictated to 4th and 6th graders by a Boston-area schoolteacher, Doris Lawson. Lawson uses “A Wizard’s Tale” (fashioned after characters from The Lord of the Rings) and “The Egypt Story” to draw connections between mathematics and culture for her students. Children learn customs from different cultures (such as names of Egyptian children or the typical age for marriage) while they are taught to think creatively about what many believe is a “boring” and difficult subject: mathematics.
Each part of the book begins with the word-for-word rendition of the stories as told by Lawson to her students (accompanying the book is a CD of the stories). Consequent chapters describe what the children should learn and what skills they should develop, such as interpersonal relationships with the teacher, problem solving, consequences of actions, math proofs, and how math plays a part in everyday life around the world.
“Children need to have the chance to work problems that ask them to behave as mini-mathematical anthropologists if we want them to learn multicultural mathematics. Asking students to uncover the links between a culture’s mathematical system and its social beliefs…. is an example of this type of problem” (p. 183). A table on p. 138 compares modern-day and ancient Egyptian multiplication methods. Ancient Egyptian multiplication, for example, requires speaking aloud while multiplying; our modern-day multiplication does not. In comparing how early Egyptian and modern societies view math, children learn value systems: math was a group activity in ancient Egypt as opposed to our modern focus on the individual.
Academic advisors who specialize in education, anthropology/social science, mathematics/statistics, or exploratory/undeclared majors will find this book helpful in advising students. Often students do not see why they must take math if they are anthropology majors, or vice versa. This book will not only help students see how each subject can be applied to the other, but also will help them realize the value of a liberal arts education. Most importantly advisors can use this book to prove connections between students’ majors, minors, electives, and career choices and reinforce why it is vital to be well-rounded. (As a side note, as a college freshman, I enrolled in a seminar called Math in Africa; that class helped me to decide to major in anthropology and minor in math).
I recommend this book to advisors, but caution against getting bogged down in the actual stories (unless one is a former, current, or future teacher who might find the pedagogical details interesting). The stories can be skimmed, but the conclusions and lessons learned are worth reading.
Oral Storytelling & Teaching Mathematics: Pedagogical and Multicultural Perspectives. (2004)
Book by Michael Stephen Schiro and Doris Lawson. Review by Janice Lindsley. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, Inc., 280 pp. $36.96 ISBN # 0-7619-3010-8.