Native American Culture in Math

Why am I bothering you about Native American culture in math class?

First of all, I can tell you for a fact that dates on the calendar are closer than they appear. You may be wanting me to leave you alone now but when August rolls around and you are starting your lesson plans, you’ll thank me.

Is there such a thing as Native American math?

If you are a little puzzled by this idea, you join me and 99% of teachers in schools that have a low density of Native American students. That 99% number wasn’t pulled out of – um – the air. The National Indian Education Study in 2015 found that only 1% of American Indian/ Alaska Native students in “low density” schools, that is where less than a fourth of the students were AI/AN, were exposed to American Indian culture or history in their math class.

A star quilt is one example of including Native American culture in math
This Star Quilt could be a math problem

Yet, it should be pretty much effortless to implement. I was talking with Miss Jade, who teaches beading at Warwick Public School about all of the patterns that could be turned into math problems.

Take this star quilt as an example. Let’s say we knew that each of the 8 points takes 12 large pieces and that the inside takes 8 medium pieces and 8 small pieces. You can make a bunch of math questions from this.

How many large pieces do I need?

This example could be used to teach several math concepts. One is “Identifying essential information.” It also requires you to multiply a two-digit number by a one-digit number. You could use this as an example of using the problem solving strategy of “starting at the end” to see what a problem is really asking.

How many pieces do I need altogether?

This requires a bit more complicated equation of

P = (8 x 12) + 8 + 8

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It’s not that hard to incorporate Native American math content, so why don’t we?

Someone on twitter commented that lack of time should not be an excuse for anything in education. I will pause now while we all laugh heartily at this idiot.


We all lack time and once the school year gets under way sometimes you are working all day long just to not fall behind.

If you have never started your school year with one plan only to find out that your students are far behind or ahead of where you expected, then I want to be you.

Right now, I could sit here and come up with a dozen examples of using Native American history and culture to teach math, but

  1. I had the advantage of working for a couple of weeks this summer with teachers like Miss Jade and Mr. Morin at Warwick Public School who gave me a ton of ideas.
  2. I’ve been making math games for a few years.
  3. I have the liberty of sitting here thinking about it.

But …. ask me to come up with something five minutes before class is about to start, and oh, by the way, you planned on teaching fractions but this class is still working on division – and forget about it.

So, here, I am, your friend. For Ojibwe history and culture, multiplication (mostly) and division, play Making Camp Premium for $1.99. If you really cannot afford it for your classroom, please email me We have sponsorships available for Title I schools.

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