Researcher connects culture and maths

Monday March 11, 2019 Written by Published in Education
Researcher connects culture and maths

Massey University lecturer Dr Jodie Hunter is currently conducting a research on cultural response and strength-based maths education for Pacific learners.

According to the New Zealand university’s website, Hunter is interest in the research was inspired by her Cook Island heritage and personal understanding of the struggles Pasifika children can face in maths classrooms.

Hunter taught at a number of primary schools across Auckland and while teaching she completed her masters of mathematics education.

She later went on to Plymouth University in the United Kingdom which she said was her stepping stone into research and later had a research position in mathematics and statistics.

“When I first got into education, I was aware that a lot of children from Pacific backgrounds in New Zealand don't necessarily achieve as well as other groups. Because of my Cook Island heritage, I really wanted to work in schools where there were a lot of Pacific children,” she said.

Hunter said her motivation was her grandmother, who is from the Cook Islands.

She said: “My grandmother does these tivaevae, so I'd always had that around us. She’d teach us the Cook Island dances and things like that, which have patterns in them, but I didn't really see the mathematics in those until later in my life.

“Tivaevae is mathematical and there's a lot of connection between dance and mathematics. But often you don't see those, and it wasn't until in more recent years that I've been able to look and the mathematics popped out at me.”

She said there is a misconception that if one was from the Pacific, your cultural group did not have mathematics in its culture.

“So one of the things that we can do is look for the mathematics that already exists in people’s lives because every culture has mathematics. I’ve been talking about craftwork and cultural artefacts, but I think it’s just in your everyday life – you’re always encountering mathematics, but for us as educators and teachers, we need to be very cognisant of what mathematics the children might see outside of school.”

She said as a teacher, she found that there were no reasons why Pacific children didn’t achieve as well as other groups.

“So I became interested in looking at research and work about how we can accelerate the achievement for Pacific children.”

Hunter said she became interested in maths education through her mum who was also a school teacher.

She finished her undergraduate programme at university and decided to be a teacher and when she started teaching her mum had completed her masters.

She said it was when her mum was presenting a research paper in Australia for the first time that she went along with her and was really fascinated by the research presentations.

“As a teenager, particularly at high school, I didn’t have a very positive relationship with mathematics. It wasn’t something I identified with and it wasn’t anything that I really wanted to do myself.

“But when I went to this conference and listened to all the research on how to teach maths effectively, I got very interested because I sat there thinking if I’d had the type of teaching that we’re talking about here, it would have been a different story for myself.”

Hunter said she hoped for a more equitable education system for all children to have opportunities to succeed and to be able to do what they want to do.

“I don’t think everybody has to go to university – it’s not one pathway for everybody. But what I would like to see is that everybody has the choice to take the pathway that they want to take.

“I think one of the issues I have for Pacific children … is that children aren’t necessarily given opportunities to do challenging mathematics … I mean challenging them and getting them to think about reasoning and in a classroom environment that also supports them.”

                -Education HQ/Massey University

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