How two Massey academics are helping to teach maths in the Cook Islands

Wednesday 27 July 2022

The way that school children in the Cook Islands are being taught maths is undergoing a shake up, thanks to a group of academics from New Zealand, the United States and Australia.

Robyn Jorgensen (back left), Strickland Upu (back right), Jodie Hunter (front left) and Bobbie Hunter (front right). Photo by Caleb Fotheringham of Cook Islands News.

Associate Professor Jodie Hunter and Professor Roberta Hunter from Massey’s Institute of Education are working alongside University of Canberra Emeritus Professor Robyn Jorgensen and Professor Marta Civil from the University of Arizona on a project to make maths contextually relevant for school children in the Cook Islands and Niue. The US Embassy has provided grant funding to support the project.

The aim is to improve numeracy by putting maths problems to children that are culturally and situationally relevant to them, rather than re-using resources from New Zealand or other countries that may contain unfamiliar elements.

Associate Professor Hunter says at the moment many Pacific Island nations are using resources that don’t align with the children’s cultural backgrounds or understanding of a topic.

“Resources from New Zealand might ask a child to solve a problem using fence posts, for example, which most children in the Cook Islands aren’t exposed to. So they are spending time and energy trying to understand the concept of how a fence works, rather than focusing on working out the problem itself. The resources we have developed use examples like the tīvaevae quilt pattern, or the umu method of cooking, that children in the Cook Islands are familiar with. This way, they can access high level maths in a context that makes sense to them.”

The group were recently in the Cook Islands, where they held workshops with local teachers who will then use the new resources in the classroom. Associate Professor Hunter says having input from local teachers is crucial.

“We don’t have the local knowledge that these teachers do, and they know the children, so we need their expertise and buy-in to be able to be effective.”

The project has the backing of the Ministry of Education Cook Islands, and mathematics advisor Strickland Upu has been heavily involved in the project. He will be supporting teachers in the Cook Islands to use the new resources, and has been instrumental in identifying local needs.

The resources will be made freely available on the website for the Centre of Research in Mathematics Education, which is part of Massey's Institute of Education. This will mean that all schools in the Cook Islands and Niue will be able to access and use the resources.

The group aims to have a database of a years’ worth of maths resources for the beginning of the 2023 school year. They will also be monitoring how the resources are used and received.

Associate Professor Hunter is familiar with developing effective maths resources for school children. Both in 2020 and 2021, she helped develop material sent out by the New Zealand Ministry of Education for students to use while at home during the COVID-19 lockdowns in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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