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Communal learning boosts Pasifika, Maori maths



When pupils talk and laugh in class, it usually means they are not doing much work. But for Massey education lecturer Dr Bobbie Hunter, it can mean just the opposite in the case of Pasifika and Maori children taking part in a maths research project.


Dr Hunter and her colleague Associate Professor Glenda Anthony have for the past six months been working with year 7 and 8 Pasifika and Maori pupils at four schools in Waitakere and Manukau to find out if their maths performance and attitude improves when they work cooperatively in groups.


The results of their project ? an Education Ministry teaching learning research initiative ? have been remarkable, with improved grades and levels of understanding, Dr Hunter says.  ?They tell me it's harder and more challenging, but it?s more fun. They really enjoy it now.?


This approach to maths education operates on the basis that the group is responsible for ensuring every member contributes and understands the maths problem at hand. The teacher?s role is to guide and bring attention to individual strengths within the group. Dr Hunter says discussion and laughter are invariably part of the process in which real learning takes place.


Preliminary results of the research match those of work done by Professor Marta Civil from the University of Arizona?s Department of Mathematics. She researches similar group learning models among Hispanic and North American Indian pupils with the aim of improving their maths performance.


Professor Civil, originally from Barcelona, Spain and internationally renowned for her expertise on equity in maths education and socio-cultural approaches to maths education for ethnic and language minorities, is in New Zealand for a maths education research conference in Wellington this week.


She says her work aligns closely with Dr Hunter's and gives useful insights into how teachers? understandings of cultural behaviours and influences can reinforce classroom learning and achievement. ?We have these stereotypes about different cultures and we assume there is only one way of learning for everyone," Professor Civil says. "A lot of students have languages and cultures other than English, and the idea is to find culturally relevant ways to engage them in learning.? 2012