Posted to the Ethnos Project by on September 5th, 2012

While solutions to the “digital divide” are often imagined as a one-way bridge, there are a variety of ways in which we can create a two-way bridge alternative. Culturally Situated Design Tools (CSDTs) use information technology to “translate” from local knowledge and low-tech practice, to high-tech domains such as math, computer graphics, architecture, etc. Culturally-situated design tools allow knowledge to move in both directions across the digital divide.

CSDTs are the result of research being carried out by professors, graduate students, and undergraduate students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). Funded by the National Science Foundation, this research is aimed at discovering ways to teach mathematics and computing to students by having them virtually replicate cultural artifacts. In using the software design tools developed by the researchers at RPI, students come to understand the mathematics that underly the creation of a cultural artifact.


African overview: fractal geometry
Mangbetu design: transformational geometry
Hexastrip weaving: buckyballs

African American

Cornrow Curves: transformational geometry

Youth Subculture

Graffiti Grapher: Cartesian and polar coordinates
BreakDancer: Rotation and sine function

Native American

Virtual Bead Loom: Cartesian coordinates
Alaskan Basket Weaver: Cartesian coordinates
Navajo Rug Weaver: Cartesian coordinates
SimShoBan:  geometry
Yupik Star Navigator: counting,  modular math
Yupik Parka Patterns: transformational geometry


Pre-Columbian Pyramids: symmetry, pre-algebra
Rhythm Wheels: fractions, LCM

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