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Multicultural Math: Lessons from the Mayas

Calendars, Pyramids and Numbers: The Mayas Had it All

The Maya are probably the best-known of the classical civilizations of Mesoamerica. Originating in the Yucatan around 2600 B.C., they rose to prominence around A.D. 250 in present-day southern Mexico, Guatemala, northern Belize and western Honduras.

Maya mathematics constituted the most sophisticated mathematical system ever developed in the Americas. The Maya counting system required only three symbols: a dot representing a value of one, a bar representing five, and a shell representing zero.

Mayan Math, Cows and Linear Algebra

We traveled to the Mayan ruins of Copán, Honduras, where math teacher Ternesha Burroughs talked to us about how she incorporates a multicultural perspective to her math lessons.


Lesson Plans, Activities and Ideas for your Classroom

Mayan Mathematics and Architecture (50 pages, 216 KB)
Students in grades 5-8 explore Mayan mathematics and architecture in this cross-curricular unit of eight lessons.

Concepts in Number Theory
Students in grades 9-12 learn basic Mayan arithmetic and develop an understanding of the Mayan calendar and Mayan mathematic achievements over three class periods.

Writing in Mayan Glyphs (45 pages, 2.96 MB)
Using Chapter 2 in this PDF, students in grades K-12 can learn to write their names in ancient Mayan glyphs.

Why Civilizations Fall: Interpreting the Evidence
Students in grades 6-8 explore factors that contributed to the collapse of the Mayan civilization and learn how archaeological evidence is gathered and interpreted.

Ancient Maya: Knowledge Through Art
Students in grades 9-12 explore Mayan culture, and our knowledge of it through its art, architecture, and the heritage of modern Maya people.

A Classical Maya News Report
Students in grades 9-12 explore the ancient civilization of the Maya during the classical period, from A.D. 300 to A.D. 900.

Background Resources

FAMSI - Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc.
A comprehensive resource.

Popul Vuh (287 pages, 1 MB)
The Popol Vuh: Sacred Book of the Quiché Maya People

Representations of deities of the Mayan manuscripts
Prose descriptions and glyphs.

The Maya Hieroglyphic Codices
Translation and analysis of four codices (screenfold books) painted by Maya scribes before the Spanish conquest in the early 16th century. The codices contain information about Mayan beliefs and rituals, as well as activities associated with daily life, which are framed within an astronomical and calendrical context.

Pre-Columbian Mayan
This site contains many images of artifacts.

The Daily Glyph
Podcasts on Mayan mathematics and the collapse of Maya civilization.

Maya Civilization Time Line

NOVA resources on the Maya
Interactives, video, audio

Online Activities

Quiz Your Noodle: Ancient Maya
How much do you know about ancient Mayan civilization? Test your knowledge with this quiz.

Map of the Maya World
Interactive map

A Maya Masterpiece Revealed
Explore a 2,000-year-old mural, one of the most exciting recent discoveries of early Mayan art.

Deciphering Maya: A Timeline
Trace key discoveries in the effort to understand the Mayan script.
Decode Stela 3
Read Mayan hieroglyphs carved on an eighth-century stone monument, and hear them spoken aloud.


Writing in Maya Glyphs
Pt 1 (45 page pdf ; 3 MB)
Pt 2 (40 page pdf; 1.2 MB)

Maya Numbers and the Maya Calendar
Pt1 (70 page pdf ; 739 KB)
Pt 2 (48 pages; 1.5 MB)


Cracking the Maya Code (52:40)
Lost King of the Maya (54:17)

Lost King of the Maya: Companion website
Includes a teacher’s guide and classroom activities.


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