Massey turns the Maths magic on school students

Massey turns the Maths magic on school students

Supplied Content
Auckland, January 26, 2020

Professor Bobbie Hunter with children (Photo from Massey News)

Summer holidays plus Maths classes would not normally add up.

But that is exactly what more than 150 Auckland primary school pupils signed up for: a holiday Maths programme, combining a Pasifika cultural approach with the latest robotics technology.

Massey University Mathematics researchers Dr Jodie Hunter and her mother Professor Bobbie Hunter, based at Massey University’s Institute of Education in Auckland, have been transforming Maths education for Māori and Pasifika students in low decile schools around Aotearoa. 

They are thrilled that 115 pupils from Pomaria Road School in West Auckland gave up (last week) their skateboards, PlayStations and other holiday activities to attend morning workshops that focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) activities.

Dr Hunter said that 45 more pupils from Point Chevalier’s St Francis School attended parallel morning sessions.

Mathematical thinking

“By the second day, the numbers increased, including older siblings of those who signed up initially and went home enthused about how fun it was,” she said.

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

Why fractions?

“If children understand fractions it can really accelerate their learning. It is an area of Maths many typically struggle with because, she says, fractions are “counter-intuitive and difficult to understand,” Dr Hunter said.

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

The spirit of inquiry

The holiday programme is based on the ‘Developing Mathematics Inquiry Communities’ model they have developed over the last decade. 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 will be 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 Education Ministry. 

Eight-year-old Kaiser attended the first day and says he enjoyed the Lego activities, building a train and learning about fractions. His mother said that he is good at Maths and that the programme “is a fun way to extend his learning and for him to mix with other children. He can get bored really quickly but he is really engaged now and not wanting to leave.”

Funded Programme

Evelyn (7) said that she liked building a maze and programming the Bee-Bot (robot for children).

“I learned that you can make different fractions equal to a whole chocolate bar,” she said.

Dr Hunter, whose PhD was on early Algebra education teaching to primary-aged children, said that 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 hopes the programmes will run in school holidays throughout the year.

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