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Asking questions the answer to better maths

Asking questions the answer to better maths

AUCKLAND – Getting Mäori and Pacific Island children to ask questions in class, is thought to be the key to lifting their performance in numeracy.

College of Education lecturer and researcher Bobbie Hunter, says this group of children needs to be taught to speak out and make enquiries in the classroom but tend not to, possibly for cultural reasons.

There is widespread concern among educators about the comparatively lower level of numeracy among Mäori and Pacific children. Working with a teacher, and a class of year 8-11 pupils, including Mäori and Pacific Island children, Ms Hunter saw a significant improvement in maths once children were taught how to question.

For her work, she has won a prestigious early career research award. The award for her paper Structuring the Talk Towards Mathematical Inquiry received the award from the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia.

“It is recognised among teachers that this group of children does not ask questions or argue a point,” Ms Hunter says. “We need to teach them to do what European children do automatically.”

Ms Hunter, who is part Cook Island Mäori, says to achieve this some teachers will need to change their views about their role in the classroom.
In the past five years at least two national reports on numeracy in Mäori and Pacific students have raised concerns over the achievement gap between them and their European and Asian classmates.

Her paper suggested establishing teaching practices in which pupils are explicitly taught the mathematical language of inquiry and argument.

“This included being able to engage in making mathematical explanations, justifications and generalisations within a community of learners. These practices may be learned and used implicitly by some children.

“However if we don’t teach them explicitly to all children, mathematics acts as a gatekeeper, shutting out specific groups in accessing mathematics at a higher level.
“What my project showed was that by developing the voice of this group, they were able to accelerate their achievement in mathematics.”


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