Who would have thought that “Count to 10” would reveal something about our culture? (Ethnomathematicians would think that, actually! They study how mathematics and culture interact).
When we say “Count to 10,” we are using the Base-10 numbering system, and its usage is so prevalent in our daily world that we might not notice that other cultures have developed other ways of counting.
For instance, the Mayans of Central America use a vigesimal system, aka, a Base-20 numbering system.
Counting in Mayan means cycling through the numerals after every 20 digits, instead of 10, and because the Mayan glyphs used to represent numbers look different than our numbering system, which is a melding of Hindu and Arabic numbering systems, learning to “count in Mayan” not only challenges our brains to hold quantities in groups of 20 but also to recognize Mayan numbers.
As it turns out, young people can fairly quickly wrap their flexible brains around the vigesimal Mayan glyph system of counting! (In fact, it might be their 40-something-year-old teacher who had the most struggle bending her brain in a new way).
Take a look: