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December 7, 2015 at 9:06 am

Navajo Math Circles Film—Showing Klein’s Work—Debuts in January

Dr. Bob Klein was one of the Math Camp leaders in July 2014.

Dr. Bob Klein was one of the Math Camp leaders in July 2014. Photo by George Csicsery

Navajo Math Circles, a film by George Csicsery, makes its world debut at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Seattle on Jan. 6.

Navajo Math Circles opens a window on the lives of several Navajo students who have participated in a lively collaboration with mathematicians and math educators since 2012. The students stay late after school and assemble over the summer to study mathematics, using a model called Math Circles. This notion of student-centered learning puts children in charge of exploring mathematics to their own joy and satisfaction, with potentially long-lasting results.

“We do something very unique here … connecting students to their identities as students who are very good at mathematics, but also their identities as Navajo, is extremely important. We don’t want to see Navajo as somebody outside, or somebody on the fringes of the mathematical community. We want them to see themselves as part of that community, as Navajo, as mathematicians,” says Dr. Bob Klein, Associate Professor of Mathematics at Ohio University. Klein’s research includes rural education.

Klein, who is in Nepal to talk about starting a math circle there, was one of the Math Camp leaders in July 2014 when Csicsery filmed the movie. He and a student undergrad apprentice continued work at the Math Camp in summer 2015.

The documentary reveals the challenges of education in the largely rural educational system. Preservation of native culture, traditions, and the Diné language are essential components of the Navajo Math Circles project.

For the teachers, the natural beauty of the Navajo reservation in the Four Corners area, and applications of math in native culture provide tools for increasing math literacy. The presence of Math Circles raises the hopes of parents, students and teachers for a brighter future.

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