Follow up: Language Collaboration and Mathematics

As I have implemented a student centered inquiry approach into mathematics this academic year, I have been thinking about how to also better address mother tongue integration. English and Mongolian are the only languages in official use in the primary school for the time being. After discussing my students’ thoughts on this topic, we began to reflect at a deeper level about how this may affect those who return to home countries.

As all students at ISU have daily Mongolian classes, it is the second common language in the school. After reading Emily Vand’s post about experimenting with using languages other than English to discuss books, I decided to try this with mathematics.

During a recent unit about space and shape, students were wondering if a couch would fit in the classroom, for next year. Applying their understanding of measurement and principles of perimeter and area, students used Bee-Bots to justify their predictions and floor plans.

As they experimented with the coding necessary to prove their calculations, a student who is German volunteered to direct a classmate,  a native Mongolian speaker, speaking only in German, how to program the Bee-Bot. Upon reflecting afterward, here were some comments:

-“There are some words in German that sound like English.”

– “Hand gestures would help since we didn’t know any German.”

-“It’s helpful to discuss in our native language what we thought he meant as he told us in German what to do with the Bee-Bot.”

-“Like in Mongolian and English, there are multiple words in German that mean one thing, or a similar thing.”

I would like to encourage my students to continue this language exploration, not only in mathematics investigations, but with book clubs and units of inquiry. As Dr. Jim Cummins states, use of one’s language affirms one’s identity. My German student was enjoying using math talk in his self-proclaimed least favorite subject. The hope is that this type of language collaboration can help students build an appreciation for languages other than English and Mongolian, as well as extend their own inquiries by also using their home languages.


3 thoughts on “Follow up: Language Collaboration and Mathematics”

    1. Hi Carina,
      With so much language diversity in our international classrooms, it just makes sense to tap into the mother tongues. My group this year is so enthusiastic about doing this in our units of inquiry, new vocabulary in their independent reading, and mathematics! Have a great year!

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