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Students will learn math through Native art

June 12, 2013

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) is sponsoring a math and culture academy this month in Juneau in an effort to increase interest and academic achievement in math through art.

The two-week academy is part of a three-year program that will include culture-based math camps where Native art practices such as basketry, weaving and Northwest Coast formline art will be used to teach math.

Through the project, SHI also will increase knowledge of teachers in Tlingit cultural traditions, protocols and art as they affect mathematical learning.

SHI is building a model for use in Southeast Alaska by adapting nationally recognized, successful math programs developed by other organizations outside the region. SHI’s academy is inspired by an acclaimed and successful math program developed by Dramatic Results, a nonprofit arts organization in California. It was also informed by Native artists, who have long said Native art practices teach math in a concrete way.

SHI is emphasizing math because educators at the University of Alaska Southeast have identified it as one of the greatest areas of need, said SHI President Rosita Worl, who has met with UAS staff along with SHI’s Education Director Jackie Kookesh.

“Math is a hurdle that is holding students back from pursuing degrees in finance, science and other fields,” said Worl, adding the problem was also the inspiration for the program name – “Opening the Gate” – because math is the gate keeper to higher education for many students.

Among other things, this year’s academy will include a field trip to gather spruce roots, formline instruction and a workshop with Louie Gong, a widely known educator, activist and artist who has given presentations around the world. Gong will offer his “Walking in Two Worlds” workshop, where students will explore issues of Native identity and design a unique set of shoes that reflect each student’s identity.

The academy is scheduled June 17-29 at the Vocational Training & Resource Center (VTRC). The program is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Alaska Native Education Program.

Sealaska Heritage Institute was founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.

CONTACT: Rosita Worl, SHI President, 907.463.4844