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Doing Math abuela's Mayan Way

Our activity, Doing Math the Mayan Way, encourages parents and teachers to teach children how to count using the Mayan numeral system. As with the counting system used by families to make maguey bags, the Maya used a base 20 counting system. Our activity emphasizes the complexity and uniqueness of this number system, pointing out details important to the cultural background of the practice—among them, the fact that the Maya were the first to use the number zero in a numerical system.

Doing Math the Mayan Way guides parents to teach children how to count using materials they might already have at home, such as beans, sticks, and paper. The activity seeks to engage parents and children in early math concepts, such as numeracy and operations. The instructional setup is inviting for young children, with colorful materials that support mathematical thinking and fine motor skills. 

Why Do Math the Mayan Way?

The Mayan counting system provides a rich opportunity for children to learn about math and the culture of their Moms and Dads.. It is one example of the ways in which math and culture are intertwined and can be used as a tool for supporting early math in and outside of the classroom.

We believe that culture is an important component of the conceptual fabric of math learning. Activities such as this one strive to honor abuela and her Mayan culture and highlight the different ways in which the ancients conceptualized and practiced mathematics. By teaching children to count the Mayan way, we are not only capitalizing on cultural practices that nurture early math learning beyond the classroom, but also we are starting to instill in children a sense of cultural sensitivity, competence, and curiosity.

Our goal is to expand our notions of and possibilities for how children learn math at a very young age, investigating cultural differences in these processes, and continuing to ask ourselves as we move forward: when we hear the word math, what do we think about?

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