One of the most interesting parts of my research into how students from other countries have learned math in different parts of the world is how different numbers mean different things to different people. (I'm still trying to finish my third research paper for the year on teaching math to English language learners but the beginning of term business still predominates. This doesn't stop me, however, from thinking about the implications of what we are finding out).
One of the International students at SMC we interviewed last semester spoke of how the number 4 is closely connected to the idea of death in his home country, South Korea. He said that the fourth floor of a building is usually labeled F and not 4 and that there are several other examples where the number 4 is not used in a visual sense.
So can you imagine what it must be like to be a nine-year-old recently arrived from S. Korea and finding yourself in a classroom with a large Number 4 over the door. If, as teachers, we are aware of these subtle cultural differences then we can help young chidlren overcome their fears as they begin their new lives.
Here is a link to my Their Math Counts Too website which is where I'm collating the results of our research. That's a picture of Sahar on the site, she's a fifth grade student at the Sustainability Academy at Barnes in Burlington who has helped me with my research.