Progress in maths just the beginning

Issue: Volume 99, Number 5

Posted: 25 March 2020
Reference #: 1HA6sF

Koru School in Mangere, South Auckland has been using the DMIC (Developing Mathematical Inquiry Communities) approach since 2013 and has seen improved engagement and achievement.

Mother and daughter, Professor Roberta Hunter and Dr Jodie Hunter developed DMIC, which uses culturally centred contexts to engage children. Here they watch some tamariki at Koru School work on a maths problem.

Koru School in Mangere, Auckland, is one of 140 schools throughout Aotearoa to have taken on the deep challenges of the DMIC pedagogy, which encourages group problem-solving in culturally-centred contexts and is improving engagement and outcomes in mathematics learning and other areas.  

Lift in achievement  

In the latest New Zealand National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement(external link) (NMSSA) in Mathematics and Statistics there is a significant lift in mathematics achievement nationally; with the largest achievement gains evident for Year 8 Pacific students between 2013 and 2018.    

In the 2013 report(external link), 11 percent of Pacific students at Year 8 were achieving at curriculum level 4 or above. In the 2018 New Zealand report(external link) almost 24 percent of Pacific students at Year 8 were achieving at curriculum level 4 or above, compared to almost 27 percent of Māori and  

50 percent of New Zealand European students. This change is significant.  

Strength-based approach  

Using DMIC pedagogy to solve ambitious mathematics problems draws on the knowledge, expertise and experiences of every child in the class whether they be Māori, Cook Island, Samoan or other identities – raising the status of tamariki and their culture.  

Koru School’s deputy principal, Bronwyn Jones, says DMIC is a strength-based approach which recognises that Pasifika families and students have rich mathematical practices and knowledge that teachers can value and capitalise on. The school’s Year 8 students are immersed in DMIC collaborative problem-solving practices, learning effective mathematical practices and active and respectful problem-solving strategies, she says. 

In early March, Hon Jenny Salesa and Hon Aupito William Sio, were welcomed to Koru School to announce $7.2 million investment to expand DMIC.

DMIC makes sense  

“DMIC made a lot of sense to the school’s leadership team and showed results from early on with the way tamariki think about themselves as mathematicians going hand in hand with achievement. We got big shifts at the end of that first year.  We had students who held their gains over the holidays, which is something that didn’t always happen,” says Bronwyn.  

She says it was really powerful for teachers to see how far they could push students wo quickly made gains. 

“We’ve got some students in Year 8 who are quite confidently operating in early curriculum level 5. Our data show there is a cumulative effect so that by the time our children get to year 8, they are pretty strongly positioned to go to high school. Their dispositions as learners are strong,” says Bronwyn. 

Koru School’s 2018 Education Review Office report(external link) echoed this, stating that the school has had a positive impact on outcomes for its students over time. “Year 8 achievement is noticeably higher than other year levels, indicating the positive difference the school makes for learners who stay at the school for at least four years,” says the report. 

Confidence to take risks  

Students are grouped carefully and learn they can depend on their classmates. This means they become increasingly confident in sharing their thinking, explains principal, Stan Whata.  

“The way the lessons are run allows our children to clarify their thinking, so rather than making just a one-off statement, they will be challenged by their peers: ‘How do you justify that?’  

“Previously there would be a few voices in class and because everyone listened to them, those voices were taken as being right. Now everyone is encouraged to proactively grapple with the learning challenge,” he says.  

Mixed ability grouping  

Bronwyn maintains that ability grouping is detrimental to the way students view themselves and their status in a classroom. Mixed ability grouping used effectively has advantages for both high and low achievers, she says.   

“Being able to sit with everybody in your class and talk about maths is really powerful. The students are positioned in a way that raises their status among their peers.  

“Part of this includes valuing all contributions and teachers repositioning the students as capable learners and doers of mathematics. In an ability grouped system, students swiftly identify who is good at maths and who isn’t. Often this is based on the emphasis teachers put on getting the right answers and answering quickly. Mixed ability grouping and equitable practices allow students to be active in their learning irrespective of their achievement levels,” she says.  

Pedagogy optimised  

Teachers at Koru School use a range of DMIC strategies to optimise the effectiveness of the pedagogy. For example, explains Stan, if the group is not listening to a student, the teacher may intervene with: ‘Did you hear what so and so said about that – why don’t you ask them to explain their thinking?’  

“The status of the student is raised with their peers and strengthens their confidence as they see themselves as a contributing member of the team. Repositioning our students as mathematical experts in their own right and learning how to listen to them, also helps support the removal of unconscious bias and unintended or intended racism,” he says.  

PLD supports change  

DMIC requires leadership that is focused on supporting the challenges that come with change, allowing time for growth, supporting learners (teachers and students) in the process and being open minded to the repositioning of expertise in the learning, Stan explains.  

“Leadership is responsible for the challenges and possible changes to school systems that support learning - and the possible removal or restructure of these systems to support DMIC.  

“For example, for a long time, we noticed that our formative assessments of daily observations and overall teacher judgements were well informed and very high achieving. However, our standardised assessments did not paint the same picture, possibly because the assessments were developed with a totally different set of values. DMIC is a collaborative process achieved over time, whereas assessments were individual within a given time set,” he says.  

Culture change  

Students at Koru School took the practices, norms and learning from DMIC and transferred these across the curriculum which lead to a change in learning culture across the school in all learning areas, says Stan.  

Bronwyn explains that the pedagogy has begun to permeate through other things. “Some of the ideas around grouping children and ‘less teacher talk and more student talk’ have filtered through into other curriculum areas.” 

“Aspects of DMIC fit well within all areas of teaching and learning. Culturally responsive and sustaining practices and a more open, flexible way of teaching have been evident in both literacy and inquiry. Students learn to have friendly arguments and to agree or disagree with someone’s thinking or explanation of a mathematical understanding without a ‘loss of face’ for either person. This notion of respectful sharing and helping everyone to understand has become part of our way of being,” explains Bronwyn.  

Structural change  

DMIC also influenced the recent rebuild of Koru School, which replaced its individual classrooms with four large open learning spaces.  

“The practices from DMIC helped shape how we wanted to organise the learning in these new spaces, the norms and practices we wanted to see, and the removal of deficit thinking,” says Stan.  

“The learning that we went through also challenged our unconscious bias towards our students. While we strive for a very caring and loving environment, we needed to address deficit thinking and practices that we had learnt over time from an education system that was not designed to meet the needs of Pasifika or Māori students and had our children failing before they had even started learning,” he explains.

DMIC in action  

David Ahlquist and his Year 8 class at Koru School demonstrate DMIC in practice in a best evidence in action feature, Ambitious mathematics: Ratios, decimals, fractions and time for Ta’ovala learning from Pacific expertise in education(external link) on Education Counts. The feature, which is supported by a video series, showcases the implementation of the teaching and learning approach.  

Using Ta’ovala weaving as a context, they work on a problem involving common factors, multiplying and dividing fractions and ratios, which sits at Level 5 of the curriculum. The class shows collaborative problem-solving skills and the depth of learning already established as they enter group work with high levels of engagement and no intervention from the teacher.    

“Low-floor, high-ceiling tasks in ambitious maths provide an accessible context that gives students across a range of abilities opportunities to participate. It’s important for the students to see their culture reflected in maths and to try to emphasise the link between maths and Pasifika culture,” says David.  

He says students learn resilience and perseverance and don’t expect to be rescued.  

“Getting it wrong only leads to trying something else. Productive failure is where students’ learning is accelerated as they become comfortable with their own and others’ reasoning, as they collectively search for clues that will lead them closer to a solution,” he explains.  

During the filming of the videos, some footage was re-shot and as the students re-did the Ta’ovala weaving problem, they all came to the correct answers, indicating that their learning was consolidated. 

DMIC approach  

The Developing Mathematical Inquiry Communities (DMIC) teaching and learning approach was developed by experts Professor Roberta Hunter and Dr Jodie Hunter, who come from a Cook Islands background. DMIC builds children’s progressions in mathematical reasoning, participation and communication skills as it builds teacher capability in culturally responsive ambitious education.   

While an inclusive pedagogy, DMIC has brought Pacific mathematics expertise to support the teaching profession. NZEI Te Riu Roa has provided national leadership in supporting this intervention. Dr Jodie Hunter has received a prestigious Rutherford Discovery Fellowship and funding from the Marsden Fund  to support her research relating to DMIC. 

More about DMIC

Education Counts best evidence in action exemplar (external link) 

New Zealand Maths website(external link)

See ‘Taking maths into the hearts of communities(external link)’, Gazette, Issue 20, 2019   

School leadership for improvement in primary mathematics education(external link)  

Russell School best evidence in action implementation exemplar(external link)

Koru School Year 8 students tell us what they think about DMIC 

What do you like about DMIC maths?  

  • Working with my friends.  
  • Helping people who are struggling.  
  • It’s fun.
  • Talking to each other.  

What parts of DMIC help you the most?  

  • Sharing your ideas.  
  • Reading and talking in a group.  
  • Listening to other peoples’ ways of working it out.  

What are the main things you have learned?  

  • Teamwork.
  • Communicating and sharing.  
  • New ways of doing the questions.
  • It helps me share my ideas.  

How does DMIC make you feel about maths?  

  • I am confident and not shy  
  • I like hard, challenging questions  
  • I like to challenge myself in maths  
  • I like doing maths  

How does DMIC maths make you feel about yourself?  

  • Makes me feel good and cool.
  • It makes me feel smart.
  • I can keep on trying even when I get things wrong.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 3:26 pm, 25 March 2020

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