Nola Aitken is a Professor in the Faculty of Education. Nola received her Teachers’ Certificate in Western Australia in 1964, her B.Ed. in Elementary Education at the University of Alberta in 1973, her Dip.Ed. at the University of Alberta in 1978, M.A. in Education at San Diego State University in 1987, and PhD in Elementary Education from the University of Alberta in 1994. Nola was a schoolteacher for over two decades before working for almost five years as a Test Development Specialist at the Student Evaluation Branch, Alberta Education, Alberta. Since 1992 Nola has been teaching and researching at the University of Lethbridge Faculty of Education.
My interest in teaching and learning was stirred when teaching descriptive statistics to preservice teachers. For most students in my classes, the math seemed difficult for them even though the level was elementary. I soon discovered that many of these students suffered with math anxiety as well which impeded their understanding of basic math. Hence, for several years much of my research focused on the preservice teachers’ lack of math understanding.
In recent years I had the opportunity of teaching students in the Niitsitapi preservice program in the Faculty of Education. I soon discovered that for many of these students too, math was difficult for them. At that same time I had a fortuitous meeting with a researcher from Australia who was investigating this math issue with the Australian Aboriginal people and she encouraged me to look into the Native math education issues in the Blackfoot Confederacy. It was here where my math education research evolved to “Native Ways of Knowing and Understanding Math.” After completing my research in the Blackfoot Confederacy, I have now extended my math education research to the indigenous people in Arizona in rural and urban school districts with equally rewarding results.
My research is connected directly to math education for Native students in elementary school and beyond. Through the research that my research team and I have done, we have been able to provide school districts with effective strategies for teachers to assist Native students in the learning of mathematics.
Receiving a SSHRC [award] is the greatest formal honour I have had. I also felt honoured to work closely with Native colleagues and Native students on and off the reserves in the Blackfoot Confederacy and Arizona. To be welcomed to the reservations and being trusted to work with Native children was an extraordinary honour and privilege.
Graduate and undergraduate students have been central in my research, and one of my Native graduate students was a co-researcher for my SSHRC grant. As well, a significant number of undergraduate Native students from the Faculty of Education Niitsitapi program have been involved in collecting data for my research in math education in the elementary schools in Alberta and Montana. The Native students knew many of the families of the young students with whom they worked and that ultimately paved a way for entering the schools and working with the Native children in a comfortable and trusting environment. The Native undergraduate students also provided me with additional information and understanding about their ways of knowing and provided valuable anecdotes which I included in my publications and several local, national, and international presentations.
The research funding that I have acquired to date has been used in part to assist Native education students to attend relevant conferences to present our research findings, to help them develop professionally, and to strengthen their network in Native education. I have seen the positive impact of having Native students present at education conferences. The audiences have responded favorably, and the students return with greater confidence and enthusiasm knowing that they can make a powerful difference in Native math education. That said, I would use the funds to continue assisting Native students to become inspiring leaders in math education.