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SEED projects 2018 – He vaka moana: Navigating Māori and Pasifika student success

Designing Māori and Pasifika inspired mathematical tasks

Josephina Ah SamJosephina Ah Sam (Faculty of Science)

Our project’s primary objective was to create culturally rich mathematics tasks inspired by genuine Māori and Pasifika stories and traditions. We hoped these tasks would create mathematical innovation and curiosity from students and inspire them to continue studying mathematics beyond their bridging course. We wanted our project to provide an opportunity for Māori and Pasifika students to engage with science and technology so the benefit would be seen in developing more competent learners who are more likely to choose STEM-related (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) career pathways. We also wanted to share stories of mathematical success and growth within the Mathematics department.

Numerous things went well with the project: the collaboration between our Pacific academic staff to create culturally rich mathematics tasks; the inclusion of other academic staff keen to learn and engage in our project; but, more importantly, the opportunity we gave our students to engage with genuine Pacific stories where mathematical innovation and curiosity could be fostered. Time was an issue as our project team juggled academic and teaching responsibilities with the desire to produce quality tasks for our students.

We were surprised at how well our student focus groups engaged with the tasks. They said they enjoyed physically engaging in the tasks as it was more enjoyable to be able to use their hands, they appreciated the practicality of the problems and found the problems ‘genuine’. We were surprised that when asked what kinds of mathematical thinking they might have been engaging in, one student said “It’s just common sense!” They impressed us with their theorising and reasoning, the way they tried to predict issues that might come up with their solution and the heated discussions. When we told them they had engaged in discrete mathematics, introduced at secondary school, but also taught in Stage 2 mathematics, they began to be impressed with their own work. If we could teach students to value their thinking and effort, have more tasks where the mathematics is maybe not conventional but the context is accessible and relatable, students might start to see themselves as more capable mathematics learners. If we could incorporate language and culture, our Pacific students might be more invested and self-motivated and eventually see themselves as capable mathematicians.

We received a Vice-Chancellor’s Strategic Development Fund grant for 2019 to develop the initiative beyond the grant period.