Innovative program at Lakeview School teaches mathematics through traditional beading

Lakeview School students show off the beaded bracelets they created as part of a new program at the school teaching math through traditional bead looming. photo by Robin Debassige

M’CHIGEENG—A groundbreaking new initiative at Lakeview School in M’Chigeeng is teaching students mathematics while revitalizing traditional loom beading with the community’s youth.

Lakeview School numeracy teacher Megan Middleton explained that she met Danielle Blair of the Ministry of Education and learned about her and Ruth Beatty of Lakehead University’s work in Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation incorporating traditional bead looming into the Ontario math curriculum.

“I said, ‘we need this in M’Chigeeng’,” said Ms. Middleton. “They (Dr. Beatty and Ms. Blair) came last spring and taught us and worked with us to develop a program for Lakeview that combines language, culture, traditional teachings and math.”

The program was piloted in Robin Debassige’s Grade 5 class last year and after its success was introduced to both Ms. Debassige’s Grade 3 class and Ashley Debassige’s Grade 5 class this year.

“We partnered with the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation (OCF), Mnidoo Mnising Kinoomaage Gamig (MMAK), Kenjgewin Teg Educational Institute (KTEI) and the Anishinaabemowin Revival Program,” shared Ms. Middleton. “Darlene Bebonang has been helping the students with the beading and Elaine Debassige from the MMAK school has been bringing students up to the school for the program and also teaching in Anishinaabemowin.”

Robin Debassige explained that she has been teaching the students the program in English, and Elaine Debassige has been translating it into Anishinaabemowin.

Ms. Middleton said that students design a pattern and learn through creating a bracelet how many centimeters are in a core pattern, how many beads are in a core pattern, how many beads are in a bracelet and how many core patterns make up the length of a bracelet.

“They are figuring out mathematics and algebra as they learn a traditional craft,” added Ms. Middleton. “When they measure their wrist they need to determine how many beads they will need and how many are in their core pattern. The math changes as rows are added.”

While the Grade 3 students are learning math skills and putting them to use, as the patterns of the bracelets get more complex, like that of the Grade 5 students, they are utilizing their multiplying skills.

“The student’s pattern might repeat four times and is 12 columns, so 12 x 4,” Ms. Middleton gave as an example.

“This is a meaningful, hands on way to teach math,” said Robin Debassige. “The students are all getting a loom and beads to take home. We want them to keep going with this. The partnership with the OCF is so important because they have a makerspace where the kids can go and work on their bracelets too.”

“It’s pretty easy,” said a Grade 3 student The Expositor spoke with. “At first I wasn’t sure, but Ms. Debassige showed me and taught me how to use the loom. It’s a fun way to learn math.”

Ms. Debassige and Ms. Middleton plan to host an exhibit of the students’ bracelets in the spring, as well as a school art show in January.