A co-leader of a world-renowned research study on developing the way maths is taught to all children, especially to Māori and Pasifika students, has joined the board of the New Zealand Council of Educational Research (NZCER).

Dr Jodie Hunter currently wears many hats including Senior Lecturer in Maths at Massey University. She says being on the board is a privilege and is pleased by the board’s commitment to diversity.

“The NZCER is a really great organisation because it is able to bridge that gap between researchers and teachers. If you are not studying yourself while teaching you don’t have easy access to academic research via the NZCER you do. And New Zealand has some very good research and the NZCER is committed to upholding both the organisation and the researchers of New Zealand.”

NZCER conducts research and evaluation work with a range of public and private sector clients. It also produces research-based products such as tests, journals and books and its services include online testing, surveys, test marking and analysis.

Jodie is perhaps best known for her work with her mother, fellow academic at Massey University’s Albany campus, Professor Bobbie Hunter. It is an ongoing government funded project to develop a new teaching model for maths teachers. They and their research team have worked with over 100 schools in New Zealand and two in Niue, in low socio-economic areas with a large Māori and Pasifika roll.

“Many Maori and Pasifika students are under-achieving in mathematics in New Zealand schools. We believe that under-achievement is not due to the culture of the children, but that as educators we need to use the New Zealand curriculum in ways which build on the richness the children bring to school, especially for Māori and Pasifika pupils.”

Their work highlights the way that teachers can transform their practices to meet the needs of all students, often with sometimes the simplest of ideas like using culturally relevant examples of counting taro or looking at patterns in tīvaevae quilting.  Jodie grew up just as many Pasifika children do, watching her grandmother create the intricate patterns.

“There has been such a long history of Pasifika kids not achieving or doing well or having any interest in school. I believe that a child learns well if they are taught well. The responsibility has to be taken by educators, rather than putting the blame on the children. Often in New Zealand, we deficit theorize about Pasifika culture and teachers will say things like ‘Pacific kids come to school and they have no maths’. What is more, students will deficit theorize about themselves saying things like ‘Tokelauans don’t do maths’ or ‘you have to be Palagi to do maths’.”

Part of Jodie’s journey to the board began in the Cook Islands. Jodie’s grandmother is from Manihiki in the Cook Islands- and was brought over to New Zealand in World War II on a boat of young women to work as domestic servants. She married a Pākeha, and one of their daughters is Bobbie, who was a teacher for most of Jodie’s childhood.

Born in Wellington but raised in Auckland, Jodie was lucky enough to grow up with her feet in two worlds. Some of her richest memories, she says, are of going to South Auckland to see her extended Cook Island whanau and be a part of family events.

“I remember the roles we were each given to prepare and take part in a hair cutting ceremony. Research has shown that Pasifika children grow up rich in cultural experiences. And often with more than one language the richness of which is all too often ignored or minimised in an education system that still prefers to focus on French or Mandarin over Samoan or Tongan for example.”

While her mother began her academic study, Jodie studied to be a primary school teacher and taught in Mangere Bridge, Balmoral Primary and Oranga School.  When her mother was to make her first presentation ever at a conference in Sydney, she asked Jodie to come along and awhi her. It was then that the academic research bug bit.

“I was meant to just go to her presentation but I ended up going to all of the sessions on effective maths teaching and learning. I hadn’t had great experiences at school with maths. It wasn’t a subject I engaged with or liked. I heard maths being talked about in different ways both in terms of teaching it and how children learned it. I thought what a difference it would have made to me if I’d learned mathematics in these ways.”

Inspired, Jodie who was teaching at the time decided to study a Masters in Mathematics Education and completed her Masters in 2007. She has also been a member of the Ministerial Advisory Group for Early Learning (2018); Ministry of Education’s Mathematics and Statistics/Pāngarau Reference Group (2015–2016); and a past President of Auckland Primary Mathematics Association (2006-2008). She holds a PhD in Mathematics Education from Plymouth University in the UK and a Masters of Education from Massey University.

Perhaps her appointment to the NZCER is also a case of if you want something done give it to a busy person to do?

She laughs and says she is looking forward to beginning and a continuing a number of research projects including a longitudinal research project she has begun with three south Auckland schools and a Niuean school on how children use maths in their day to day lives.

They began the study asking children to report on how they used maths but that did not reap quite the qualitative rewards. Now they ask children to take photographs of things they do at home and in the community and Jodie and her research team, interpret the mathematics used by the children.

“One Niuean boy talked about spearfishing with his dad – how he had to judge how far the fish was from the reef as that would determine at what angle he should shoot the spear-gun – and how to look at how big the fish was and how much it might weigh to figure out if he could spear it successfully.”

Outside of her work and research, Jodie’s husband is a police officer so does shift work, and they have two wee daughters. It must be great to have two little sponges in the forms of her five- and seven-year-old daughters at home to try out maths ideas on?

“My seven-year-old said in the car the other day, ‘I’ve just realised that if you add two odd numbers together they always equal an even number’. I asked her, ‘were you talking about odd and even numbers at school today?’ And she said ‘no I just saw the pattern’. Then I of course get really excited about it and said ‘at home can we get out the Lego blocks to prove it?’ And she just looked at me and said ‘No thank you Mummy’.”

Photo credit: Jane Ussher

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