Understanding the mathematical practices of kente weavers in Ghana

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University of New Brunswick


One of the current challenges in mathematics education is how to link school mathematics to students' everyday activities to improve the quality of the students' educational experience. Drawing ideas from scholarship in ethnomathematics, this study describes some of the mathematical practices of kente weavers and concludes with discussion of classroom implications that have the potential to enhance mathematics teaching in Ghana using kente weaving. The study employed the techniques of Yin's (2003) case study and Wolcott's (2008) ethnographic approaches to qualitative data collection to unravel the mathematical practices of the kente weavers. A diverse and purposeful sample of 15 kente weavers [10 from Bonwire Ashanti region and 5 from Agotime Volta region] and 5 mathematics teachers in Bonwire (Ashanti) were selected to represent a range of weavers as these helped expose weaving patterns. The various stages and weaving patterns were observed to identify mathematical choices and reasoning these choices conveyed. It was followed by both informal and semi-structured interviews of the 15 kente weavers in the kente industry. A series of meetings were organized for the 5 mathematics teachers in Bonwire to discuss some potential classroom implications of the mathematical practices of the kente weavers. As I described the mathematical practices of the weavers, I placed more emphasis on three of the six items on Bishop's list for identifying of mathematical practices in cultures - counting, measuring, and designing (Bishop, 1988) - because the data provided relatively little insight on the other three items in the list - locating, explaining, and playing. Evidence of mathematical practices of the weavers indicated that irrespective of the mathematical experience of the weavers, they all employed a certain level of informal mathematics (counting, measuring, and designing) in the discharge of their duties as weavers. However, the level of mathematics employed in weaving a particular pattern depends on the complexity of the pattern.