Culturally-Responsive Mathematics Pedagogy Through Complexivist Thinking

  • Wendy S. Nielsen
  • Cynthia Nicol
  • Jenipher Owuor


This paper uses a complexity lens to consider the pedagogical project of culturally responsive mathematics. Need for new and different theoretical perspectives for Aboriginal education arise from chronic underachievement among Canada’s Aboriginal students. Culturally responsive mathematics pedagogy as a complex learning system allows a different view into the interrelationships and necessary conditions between culture, education and society, a view that aims to open new possibility for curriculum development, Aboriginal schooling and cultural renewal, while ensuring success for students. As part of the $11 million school project, the Band School Society negotiated with the Federal Aboriginal Affairs Ministry and the building contractors to include apprenticeships for Band members to join the work crew hired to build the new school. For an Aboriginal village of 2000 people and up to 80% unemployment, this was a great opportunity. Interested workers were invited to apply for the positions. All 15 of the respondents were hired immediately, and all needed mathematics upgrading courses to enter the apprenticeship training program. Skilled trades workers were in short supply in the community, and so future employment opportunities were virtually assured after completion of the school project. A local, non-Native adult education teacher was enlisted to run an evening prep course for these newly hired apprentices. The course offered focused training in mathematics skills needed by tradespeople, and indeed, these were prerequisite skills for entering the apprenticeship program. On the first night of class, eleven men and women arrived. By week two, the group had dwindled to six. When the course was completed at the end of eight weeks, two students earned completion certificates and formally entered the apprenticeship program.

Author Biographies

Wendy S. Nielsen
Dr. Wendy S. Nielsen is a recent graduate of the Department of Curriculum Studies at the University of British Columbia. Wendy is a science and mathematics educator. Her research interests are in teacher education and multicultural education.
Cynthia Nicol
Dr. Cynthia Nicol is an Associate Professor of Mathematics Education in the Department of Curriculum Studies, also at the University of British Columbia. Her research interests include mathematics teacher education, culturally responsive pedagogy, Indigenous education, and action research.
Jenipher Owuor
Dr. Jenipher Owuor is a recent graduate of the Department of Curriculum Studies at the University of British Columbia. Jenipher is interested in business education. She has research interest in teacher education and multicultural education.
Research Articles