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Jodie Hunter

Jodie (Kiwi/Cook Islander) is helping Pasifika and other diverse school students accelerate in mathematics through co-leading a professional development project for teachers.

Jodie HunterWhat do you do on an average work day?

Every work day is different for me. I co-lead a large scale professional learning and development project called "Developing Mathematical Inquiry Communities", or DMIC for short. Sometimes I am working in primary or secondary schools taking professional development, or working alongside teachers during mathematics lessons to look at how we can develop students’ mathematical understanding. I might be supporting teachers to plan mathematical tasks that draw on their students’ cultural background, or looking at how teachers can build on students’ cultural values in the mathematics classroom.

On other days I will be working at Massey University and teaching Masters’ courses either focused on Mathematics Education or Pasifika Education, or sometimes a blend of both! I teach both online and face-to-face and many of my students are teachers.

Research is also a big part of my work day. This can involve collecting data by interviewing students and teachers or video recording mathematics lessons. I have frequent meetings with our research team where we might be developing codes for the data that we have collected, or analysing data together. The other important aspect of research is writing research publications which includes conference papers, journal articles, and book chapters.

I travel frequently for work, both around New Zealand and internationally. Currently for DMIC we work with 91 schools around New Zealand including ones in Auckland, Wellington, Napier, Gisborne, Rotorua, Tauranga, Nelson, Palmerston North and Christchurch. We also work with the schools in Niue. Recently I have been in Texas presenting a keynote to teachers there and I also attend a number of international conferences to talk about our research.

Jodie with her familyWhat did you study at school? And after high school?

At school I was much more interested in history and English rather than mathematics. I did continue studying both mathematics and science at high school but mainly because my parents told me that I would need them!

In my second to final year of school I really struggled with mathematics, but thankfully in my final year of school I had an inspiring teacher who helped my learning in the subject. But if someone had told me when I was at high school that I would end up with a PhD in Mathematics Education I never would have believed them.

I changed my major a number of times while I was at University. Initially I was taking a Psychology major and I took Statistics at University in my first year as part of this major. In the end I graduated with a major in History and a minor in Psychology.

After my graduation I completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Primary School Teaching. While I was working as a primary teacher, I completed my Masters part-time which focused on Mathematics Education. I then got a job at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom as a Research Fellow and did my PhD there, which focused on integrating early algebraic reasoning into everyday mathematics lessons in primary classrooms.

Was your study directly related to what you do now?

My post-graduate study was all related to what I do now, but even my under-graduate study - which doesn’t seem to be directly related - has links. As part of my history degree I studied New Zealand and Pacific history and I draw on that in our work in mathematics classrooms. We work with teachers to think about students’ cultural values and background and how we can use on those as strengths in the classroom.

I’m also interested in looking at the mathematics that is implicit in a lot of our cultural artefacts, including craft work like tivaevae or dance such as sasa, which is full of patterns. As Pasifika people, the history of our ancestors has strong links to mathematics. Our ancestors built vaka (canoes) and navigated around the Pacific - and navigation itself is pure mathematics. I want to help our children realise that Pasifika people are mathematicians and that maths is part of our culture, tradition, and history.

Jodie with her childrenWhat would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?

Keep exploring until you find your passion. It can be in an unexpected place, so be open to opportunities. 

I only chanced across mathematics education because as a mature student my mother, Bobbie Hunter, completed her Masters in Mathematics education and in my first year of teaching asked me to come along to a Mathematics Education research conference that she was presenting at. I went to spend one day listening to researchers present and I was hooked - because I realised that the reasons I felt so alienated from mathematics was because of the way that it has been traditionally taught.

What are some of your career highlights so far?

I still find it exciting when I see children or adults have an ‘aha’ moment when they make sense of a mathematical idea. I’m also always really excited to hear teachers talking about the successes of their students when they change the way in which they teach.

Completing my PhD was a huge career highlight, especially as I had my oldest daughter part-way through, moved from the UK back to New Zealand and got pregnant with my second daughter all while working on it!  

I’ve been fortunate enough to also have a Fulbright Scholar award so my family and I spent 5 months living in Tucson while I worked with colleagues at the University of Arizona and investigated the home/school and community partnerships that they developed with the Hispanic community living in Arizona.

Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand?

STEM provides us with opportunities. Things are rapidly changing at the moment, so skills associated with STEM are important.

When I think about my work in mathematics education and in schools with children, I firmly believe that we need to broaden our understanding of what it means to do mathematics. It is crucially important for us to grow citizens who can reason, justify their thinking and problem-solve.

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?

We need to have a gender balance in STEM, but also I think it is important for Pasifika people - and particularly Pasifika women - to work in STEM. We need a diversity of ideas and having a diversity of people working in the area can help support this.

Jodie with her team

Jodie (Kiwi/Cook Islander) is a Senior Lecturer in Mathematics and Pasifika Education at Massey University. She co-leads a large scale professional learning and development project called Developing Mathematical Inquiry Communities (DMIC), which aims to accelerate the achievement of Pasifika and other diverse students in mathematics. 

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.

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