Courtesy George Csicsery
Natanii Yazzie at the Math Camp excursion to Canyon de Chelly. Many of the Navajo children at the 2014 Math Camp had never been to the canyon before the trip organized by Dawnlei Ben and Dr. Henry Fowler.

‘Navajo Math Circles’: Watch it on PBS in September


As part of its Spotlight Education, a special week of primetime programming that will examine the challenges facing today’s students and this country’s education system, PBS will show “Navajo Math Circles” during the week of September 12-17.

The one-hour film documents the meeting of two worlds—some of the country’s most accomplished mathematicians and math educators, with the children and teachers in the underserved, largely rural Navajo educational system.

“Math itself is a cross-cultural language, and the film is designed to inspire cross-cultural understanding on multiple levels. We hope the film will encourage those who view it to embrace math, to embrace others different from themselves, perhaps even to start math circles in their home communities,” says the Zala Films website. “A working knowledge of mathematics is necessary for most advanced careers in modern society, and it is partly for this reason that programs like math circles can be so powerful: they not only inspire learning in the moment, but they can have profoundly lasting effects on children’s lives.”

The film also hopes to bridge the cultural gap between the sciences and the humanities by bringing viewers into the lives of the children and teachers of the Navajo Nation; and using math as a connector across languages and backgrounds.

“I’m going to be in 8th grade this year…. When I joined the math circles I met Henry Fowler. I introduced myself to him in Navajo. It was very fun, because it was an enrichment for your mind. Think of something more above the ordinary. The fun thing about math is—it can’t just be when you find the answer then you’ll be happy—it’s the process that makes you enjoy math, the process, because it’s better to travel along the way, than just being there,” said Natanii Yazzie on the Zala Films website. Fowler works for the Center for Diné Teacher Education at Diné College in Arizona.

Dr. Henry Fowler in the Hogan he built on his mother’s land in Tonalea. He invited mathematicians from around the country to organize a math camp at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona. (Courtesy George Csicsery)

Check your local PBS listings for when to watch the movie.

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