• Dr. Jodie Hunter.
  • Professor Bobbie Hunter.
  • Professor Bobbie Hunter getting deep into fractions at Pomaria Road School.

Summer sums lure Auckland maths fans

School holidays doing maths classes would not normally add up, right? But that is exactly what more than 150 Auckland primary school pupils signed up for over the recent summer break.

Massey University mathematics researchers Dr Jodie Hunter and Professor Bobbie Hunter, based at Massey University’s Institute of Education in Auckland, were surprised and delighted at the popularity of their mathematics programme – offered at a time of year when school work is usually the last thing youngsters want to think about.

But then, this maths-mad mother and daughter duo have been transforming maths education for Māori and Pasifika students in low decile schools from Auckland to Christchurch for the past decade. Their holiday programme centred on combining their unique method of teaching from a Pasifika cultural framework with introducing kids to the latest robotics technology.

Professor Roberta Hunter says she and Dr Hunter are thrilled that over a hundred pupils from Pomaria Road School in West Auckland chose to swap skateboards, PlayStations and other holiday activities to attend morning workshops that focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) activities. Another 45 pupils in Point Chevalier’s St Francis School attended parallel morning sessions. By day two, more kids had turned up, including older siblings of those who signed up initially and went home enthused about how fun it was. The Hunters hope to offer the workshops to other schools in Auckland in upcoming school holidays in 2020.

Cracking fractions

Professor Hunter, who completed applied research at Massey for her PhD on a culturally-tailored maths education model in 2008, says the programme comprised maths lessons on basic facts and fractions, as well as interactive activities that require maths thinking – including Lego, coding and robotics, with youngsters programming kid-friendly Bee-Bot robots to get through a maze.

Why fractions? “If kids understand fractions it can really accelerate their learning,” she says.

It is an area of maths many typically struggle with because, she says, fractions are “counter-intuitive and difficult to understand”.

Her approach is to teach fractions through everyday examples, like how to divide banana cakes and chocolate bars between uneven numbers of people.

The holiday programme was underpinned by the ‘Developing Mathematics Inquiry Communities’ model they have developed and implemented over the last 10 years. It centres on collective problem-solving and the application of Pasifika values to create a culturally relevant and meaningful learning environment. It has helped to significantly boost achievement – particularly among pupils in lower socio-economic areas – and has been adapted by educators teaching culturally diverse groups around the world, including Niue and the Cook Islands, Singapore, the United States and Britain.

Mazes, chocolate bars and Bee-Bots 

Children attending the programme were helped by teaching mentors trained by the Hunters, and who have been working with teachers around New Zealand schools to implement the Developing Mathematics Inquiry Communities method, supported and funded by the Ministry of Education. 

Kaiser, aged eight, attended the first day and said he enjoyed the Lego activities, building a train and learning about fractions. His mum says he is good at maths and that the programme “was a fun way to extend his learning and for him to mix with other kids. He can get bored really quickly, but he is really engaged now and didn’t want to leave.”

Professor Hunter says the holiday programme is being funded through an allocation of the Government’s 2019 Wellbeing Budget focused on Pacific wellbeing and by Massey University. She has received numerous awards and accolades over the years for her contribution to mathematics education, including the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia (MERGA) Research award, along with Dr Jodie Hunter, Trevor Bills and Professor Glenda Anthony, all from the Institute of Education.

Dr Jodie Hunter was awarded a $800,000 Rutherford Discovery Fellowship in 2019. Her research project will document the mathematical experiences of diverse learners outside of school, including home and community settings, through student and parent use of photography and video recording.