Jorgensen, R., Sullivan, P., Grootenboer, P., Niesche, R., Lerman, S., & Boaler, J. (2011). Maths in the Kimberley: Reforming Mathematics in Remote Indigenous Communities

By Darling, Felicia | International Journal of Multicultural Education, January 2012 | Go to article overview

Jorgensen, R., Sullivan, P., Grootenboer, P., Niesche, R., Lerman, S., & Boaler, J. (2011). Maths in the Kimberley: Reforming Mathematics in Remote Indigenous Communities


Darling, Felicia, International Journal of Multicultural Education


Jorgensen, R., Sullivan, P., Grootenboer, P., Niesche, R., Lerman, S., & Boaler, J. (2011). Maths in the Kimberley: Reforming mathematics in remote Indigenous communities. Queensland, Australia: Griffith Institute for Educational Research. 176 pp., ISBN: 978-1-921760-32-7

The Indigenous language of Nyikina contains 34 distinct terms for direction and location (p. 58). They have no words for "right" and "left." A 10-year-old Indigenous Australian can navigate 20 miles of wilderness without a compass or provisions. Despite the fact that Indigenous youth bring a unique, and largely untapped, wealth of skills and knowledge to the math classroom, only 22% complete grade 12, and the passing rates on the national mathematics assessments are as low as 35% (p. 41). In Maths in the Kimberley: Reforming Mathematics in Remote Indigenous Communities, Jorgensen et al. explore reform strategies for improving Indigenous student achievement in mathematics.

The researchers assert that mathematics education in Australia has historically advantaged certain cultural groups and marginalized others and that the textbooks, curriculum, national assessments, and pedagogical practices are biased against the Indigenous population. This compilation of 15 papers, written in the period from 2008 to 2010, emerged from a three-year case study of six community schools in the remote Fitzroy River region. The researchers collaborated with the Association of Independent Schools of Western Australia to explore equitable pedagogies that maintain the rigor of traditional math teaching standards and simultaneously incorporate the language and culture of the Indigenous population.

This seminal collection of papers serves to update industry partners, schools, and communities on the progress of the project. A secondary potential is to inform the math curriculum for English Language Learners (eLLs). Robyn Jorgensen, the primary author, is known for her expertise in redressing issues of inequality in participation, access, and success in mathematics learning among culturally and linguistically diverse students. Contributing authors are Peter Sullivan, Peter Grootenboer, Richard Niesche, Stephen Lerman, and Jo Boaler. The authors' collective areas of expertise include math education, equity, math teacher professional development, curriculum leadership, and social justice. This book is organized primarily chronologically, but the authors divide it into two sections. The first section addresses theory and pedagogy, and the second provides an analysis of the data from the project.

The works of Pierre Bourdieu, who pioneered conceptual constructs for investigating systemic social inequities, form the essence of the conceptual framework for the project. Boaler's, Lotan's, and Cohen's corpus of work provides much of the blueprint for the design of the pedagogy of equity. Boaler is known for her work with reform mathematics and equity, both in the United Kingdom and the United States (Boaler, 2006). Lotan and Cohen's work with complex instruction (Cohen & Lotan, 1997) involves small group interactions, roles, and accountability.

The first section of the book is rich with Bourdieu-isms such as "habitus" and "scholastic mortality." Habitus is the set of dispositions, schema, knowledge, and skills that students internalize early in life due to enculturation. It is the incongruity between the habitus of Indigenous students and the knowledge valued in the traditional math curriculum that creates scholastic mortality. Often theories of social philosophy are left to moulder on the pages of books in libraries, but they breathe life into Maths in Kimberley. An example is when Jorgensen says that "much of the teaching of school mathematics can be seen as an act of symbolic violence when undertaken in many contexts--Indigenous, working class, and so on" (p.14). The authors contend that math teachers, by undervaluing the habitus students bring to the classroom rather than capitalizing on this wealth of cultural knowledge and skills, unwittingly perpetuate the cycle of a persistent underclass. …

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