Ensuring kids count

Tuesday November 05, 2019 Written by Published in Education
Apii Avarua schoolchildren uses Hunter’s technique to get better at maths. 19110406 Apii Avarua schoolchildren uses Hunter’s technique to get better at maths. 19110406

Cook Islands schools are taking part in groundbreaking research designed to improve Pacific children’s mathematics skills. 


Jodie Hunter remembers a tivaivai cushion cover design from her grandmother. She would use that tivaivai to teach young Pacific children an algebra lesson.

The mathematical problem was the tivaivai pattern on a cushion: a group of mamas need to know how many leaves will be required for a large quilt?

The Massey University education researcher uses her Cook Islands heritage to teach maths, and finds this method ties in with her research and interests in culturally responsive teaching.

In New Zealand, despite initiatives focused on fairness and teaching skills in mathematics education, there continues to be differences in achievement for Pasifika and Maori students’ maths achievement.

Pacific kids struggle to engage in productive mathematical learning even at the most basic levels, she says.

Since her development research project has gained momentum, she has been awarded a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship to undertake further research into providing the best practice in mathematics classrooms for Pacific heritage students.

Hunter’s research expanded because not only were Pasifika and Maori students in New Zealand struggling to achieve in mathematics, but so were children at home in the Cook Islands and other Pacific Islands.

She works with about 140 schools in New Zealand and has previously worked with the schools in Niue.

Many of the schools that she works with in New Zealand are in South Auckland and have a high Pacific student population.

She blames their maths under-achievement on culture-clash.


Earlier this year, Hunter began working with the teachers at Avarua School undertaking her professional learning and development project, “Developing Mathematical Inquiry Communities”, focusing on culturally responsive teaching and raising maths achievement.

Hunter has now returned to New Zealand, but Avarua school mathematics teacher Tracey Okotai is using the teaching technique to help improve mathematics learning of young Cook Islanders.

“The two key aspects to our work are thinking about how we can transform our maths classrooms to better align with the students’ values,” says Hunter, “and also to think about developing problems that draw on home and community contexts.”

She also works with teachers to ensure that students are given challenging mathematical tasks to collaborate to solve while also talking about their ideas, justifying their reasoning and engaging in mathematical practices.

Now, Hunter is excited to take on the opportunity of the Rutherford Discovery Fellowship.

The Rutherford Discovery Fellowships are New Zealand’s most prestigious science awards, named after Nobel Prize-winning physicist Lord Ernest Rutherford, and created to foster the development of future research leaders

Hunter will look at student outcomes in maths, wellbeing, cultural identity, and engagement in classrooms.

Another project she will look at the home and community mathematical experiences of Pacific students with children and their families documenting this using photographs and then how teachers can design mathematics tasks that use this as a context.

Hunter says there are talks with the Cook Islands Ministry of Education to look at the possibility of working with both at Avarua School and the other schools which will join the professional learning and development program next year.

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