Massey University’s mother and daughter mathematics champions Dr Bobbie Hunter and Jodie Hunter are transforming the way Pasifika and Maori pupils learn maths in a bid to lift achievement levels.
Ms Hunter has just joined the College of Education at the Manawatu campus after a three-year stint at the University of Plymouth, where she was a research fellow, lecturer and PhD candidate working on early algebra teaching to primary-aged children. She will share the latest tools based on her collaborative international research with trainee teachers.
Meanwhile Dr Hunter, a senior lecturer in mathematics education at the Albany campus, is assisting the Ministry of Education with the introduction this year of an innovative group learning strategy, based on her PhD research, to 360 children at two Auckland primary schools with high numbers of Polynesian pupils. “The aim is to up-skill groups of teachers in this new approach,” Dr Hunter says. “The great thing about it is that it’s transferable across the curriculum.”
Dr Hunter, whose love of maths was inspired by watching her Cook Islands mother make intricate tivaevae patterns when she was a youngster, says the new initiative heralds a fundamental change in attitudes and approaches to maths education.
Mother and daughter have both researched and developed the new maths teaching models for primary school level aimed specifically at Pasifika and Maori students, called ‘mathematical communities of inquiry’. The method, which was piloted in two South Auckland schools as part of Dr Hunter’s PhD research and later at two west Auckland schools, has been shown to significantly lift maths achievement of Pasifika and Maori pupils. Children work collaboratively in groups to question, argue and reason their way through mathematical problem solving. Dr Hunter says all children benefit from the approach.
Ministry of Education surveys have shown many children struggle with mathematics and the Hunters are passionate advocates for developing tools to assist teachers with improving outcomes.
Jodie Hunter began her career as a primary school teacher but says she had become disenchanted with maths at secondary school. It was not until her mother asked her to attend a Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia conference in 2003 she was presenting at in Geelong, Australia that she came away inspired by developments in maths teaching. She enrolled in a Master’s degree in education and graduated four years ago at the same ceremony that her mother received a PhD in mathematics teaching.
While at the University of Plymouth she carried out research on teaching algebra to young primary pupils. She says difficulties in learning maths can stem from a basic lack of understanding of what the “equals” sign (=) means. Many pupils doing algebra fail to develop an understanding of the equals sign as a symbol of equivalence, confusing it with addition and subtraction where the = sign is equated with “the answer.”
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