#MathArtChallenge 86: Tla’amin Basket Weaving: Coding and Indigenous teaching

The Challenge: Play with the widget here to explore your own Tla’amin basket weaving patterns.

Materials Needed: The applet linked above.
Math concepts you could explore with this challenge: geometry, sequences, symmetry, tessellations

The Background: A student of mine, Willa Flink, wrote a brilliant paper using this website on Tla’amin basket weaving this year. The Tla’amin nation is an indigenous culture in British Colombia. Part of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action, calls for culturally appropriate education. This collaboration between the Tla’amin nation and Simon Fraser University’s Math Catcher Outreach Program is one attempt by the mathematics community in Canada to do just that.

The creation of Tla’amin baskets, requires “precise measurement, the creation of appropriate shapes and adhering to certain well-established patterns.” The collaboration which resulted in the widget and Jupyter notebooks within the program online learning platform Callysto.

Per usual lately (thanks Siddhi!) this challenge has very little to do with my creation. Really, just go to the website you don’t need me anymore. But if you’re still here, I want to make note of several things this project does well.

  1. Person and Land acknowledgment. They start off by acknowledging those who taught them this skill and that this work was done on unceded indigenous land. acknowledgements

2. They make it “math teacher friendly”.math teacher friendly

Using language like I’ve highlighted, they help math teachers see the academic merit in investigating these patterns. There’s a larger conversation to be had for why this is maybe not the way we need to go forever and always (I’m up for it, comment away below or hit me up on twitter), but right after the acknowledgment, they start talking in terms that make math teachers comfortable and more likely to use the content. I yearn for a day when we can all see meaningful mathematics in places outside of textbooks and tests, but until we get there, I want to notice their effort to explicitly name the mathematics.

3. For those who can code, you can play with the code. I am a baby in this regard, but I love that this page is easily manipulable by those who have those skills. I am SUPER excited by the possibility that a few years down the road, I could have my students play with indigenous mathematics and coding simultaneously. (I’m sure there are many other ways to get it done, but it’s so great that this already exists as a starting point.)


Finally, what strikes me as fascinating about this project, is that I have spent soooo much time in my life as a math teacher teaching things like reflections and translations, and I have never (certainly not in recollection) connected it to culture. That’s ridiculous! There are so many examples of artwork involving tilings like what’s present in these basket weavings. And here, we have a beautiful, already prepared example of how to do this and implement it. AND if you’re distance learning, this is an excellent project!

(FYI, the widget didn’t work for me right away, but that could definitely have been just me. I followed the page’s suggestion to: “click Kernel then click Restart & Run All.” and it worked beautifully for me.)

Reflection questions:

  • What skills do you think are necessary to translate these digital patterns to physical baskets?
  • What does it mean to have mathematics reflected or embedded in culture?

Depending on how you use this activity, you may engage with different mathematical standards. I’ve listed possible connected math content above. Here are a few suggestions for how you might integrate the 8 mathematical practices. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments! 

6.) Attend to precision. Is it possible to achieve the same result from different operations?

7.) Look for and make use of structure. Is there a place you see similar patterns in your own culture? How are they similar? How are they unique?

8.) Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning. What kinds of patterns are not possible? (If you know much about coding my guess is you can play with the code on the page to get it to do more)

Author: Ms. P

Math Teacher in Minneapolis, MN.

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