Margaret Hart is one of the members of the original development team for the Manitoba First Nations School System. She is currently the numeracy specialist for the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre. Margaret works with educators to promote First Nations perspectives in math programs through hands on activities, assessment and evaluation strategies. She is completing a Master’s degree in Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at the University of Manitoba. Margaret is a uent Cree language speaker.


Approaches for K-3 Mathematics

The Three Sisters story is told by many indigenous groups. It is part of an oral tradition that passes on cultural information from one generation to the next. As we restore to the classroom connections to the land, traditional knowledge, local histories, teachings, and language, we engage with stories that have been kept alive for thousands of years.

Storyboards: Visually Communicating Ideas

Storyboards are a visual way of communicating ideas. They are a series of static illustrations displayed in
a sequence for the purpose of expressing stories, understanding a concept, and imagining possibilities. Storyboarding can be used to introduce the concept of the Three Sisters in mathematics from K-3, from a First Nations perspective.

Storyboards are one of several tools recommended when working with elementary students. They help make abstract ideas visual and concrete.

Storyboards can be centres and station activities where students collaborate to build conceptual understandings in interdisciplinary ways.

Storyboard Ideas: Three Sisters Themes

Introduce the story of the Three Sisters. Create a storyboard about the relationship between the Sisters. Share with your partner. How is your story similar/different?

Examine a corn cob. How many seeds do you think it has? (counting-estimation) How many leaves does each plant have? (addition)
What if we took one away? (subtraction) 
Which is bigger, smaller, and wider? (space and shape)

MathArt Garden : Planting the Seeds of Possibility

This series of tasks invites students to make direct connections to cultural knowledge, by integrating relationships to the land, territory, local history, traditional knowledge and language with the Math curriculum.

Math concepts such as height, length, inches and feet, millimeters and centimeters, and processes like counting and estimating, matching and grouping, easily flow from these “hands on” investigations into a MathArt garden.

  • Provide students with corn, beans and squash seeds. Examine the seeds as a group and invite observations and questions. Organize matching seeds in small containers. Examine the seeds carefully and describe their similarities and differences. Can you draw and colour their shape? Glue the seeds of each plant to a paper plate repeating a single shape in a thoughtful design. Show the designs to the class and invite students to share their thinking.
  • Look at the seed packets to find out how high each plant will be when it is fully grown. How tall is a mature plant? Beans? Squash? What do seeds need to thrive? How do the Three Sisters help each other grow? How can we find answers to these questions?
  • Let’s measure how tall The Three Sisters can grow. Introduce the concept of inches and feet or millimeters and centimeters. Provide rulers and measuring tapes depending on the grade level. Ask student to measure a piece of string to show how tall the plant will grow. The string represents the stalk of the plant. Tape the string to the matching paper plate.
  • Tape strings to the wall. Add the seed filled plates to illustrate the parameters of the growth cycle, from seed to matured plant.

Additional questions may be considered to add detail and nuance to the mathematical garden. How wide are the leaves of the plants? Measure and draw them. How much space is needed between them? How many days of sunshine do they need? How much water is required? Extend student thinking by introducing divergent, open-ended questions: Can we plant a Three Sisters garden where we live? What would we need to do to support them? Who in our community could help us create a Three Sisters garden? Invite students to share their thinking and to imagine a possible plan of action.