‘Using maths in real life’

Tuesday June 02, 2020 Written by Published in Local
Dr Bobbie Hunter, at Avana before the travel shutdown. 20060102 Dr Bobbie Hunter, at Avana before the travel shutdown. 20060102

Three thousand kilometres of ocean and the Covid travel bans haven’t stopped innovative work teaching “a challenging form of maths” to pupils at Cook Islands primary schools.

This Queen’s Birthday, that work was recognised when maths professor Dr Bobbie Hunter was named a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to maths education.

Last year, she worked with Avarua School. This year, she and her team expanded to St Joseph’s, Arorangi and Rutaki – but after just one visit, Hunter said, Covid shut the schools and the borders.

“Strickland Upu has kept the work going and we are hopeful to return as soon as we are able,” she said yesterday.

“It’s a challenging form of maths for teachers and so their continued commitment is important to see the shifts in achievement. What we really focus on is having teachers and children and families recognise all the maths in their lives around them.”

The Queen’s Birthday Honour recognised Hunter’s work around social justice and equity for Pacific learners, which had made a big difference to children in New Zealand, Niue and now Rarotonga.

“What it does is make teachers aware that our learners do not fail in our system because of anything to do with themselves. It is rather the system that privileges the dominant culture. It is a straight result of colonisation – sorry for the tirade!

“My highlight in Raro is watching teachers’ faces when they realise that they are enjoying teaching mathematics because it makes sense to them and connects to their lives.

“One strong memory I have is of being in Jane Kora’s classroom at Avarua and watching her face as a little boy suddenly said something really mathematical – and at a higher level than expected – because he was solving a problem using maths in his life.

“Mary Rahiti took a parent workshop after school at Avarua this year and they did maths problems which related to their life and they just kept wanting more and more and the afternoon went into the evening.

“They all said that they wished they had learnt maths in the same way as children because then they would have been successful.”

Hunter has worked in education for more than 50 years and is a leading figure in mathematics education. Her award says she has been instrumental in raising mathematics achievement through the development of culturally responsive pedagogy.

Hunter has led scale-up education projects, such as ‘Pasifika Success: Raising Student Achievement’ and a major project with Ngāi Tahu to improve Māori mathematic achievement at a low socio-economic school in Christchurch. 

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