An indigenous community doing athematics curriculum development
ABSTRACT This paper describes part of a research project in which an indigenous school community began to develop a mathematics curriculum
with the help of the author. Although the community used a document designed by the author as a starting point for their discussions,
many of the dilemmas that they raised were not mentioned in it. This community used curriculum meetings to discuss mathematics
education issues which were of concern to themselves. The facilitating document was therefore a catalyst rather than a stimulus
for mathematics curriculum development.
Mathematics Edllcation Research JOllnInl
2001, Vol. 13, No.1, 3-14
An Indigenous Community Doing Mathematics
This paper describes part of a research project in which an indigenous school
community began to develop a mathematics curriculum with the help of the author.
Although the community used a document designed by the author as a starting
point for their discussions, many of the dilemmas that they raised were not
mentioned in it. This community used curriculum meetings to discuss mathematics
education issues which were of concern to themselves. The facilitating document
,was therefore a catalyst rather than a stimulus for mathematics curriculum
In 1998 and 1999, research was carried out with a Maori community in New
Zealand to investigate aspects of community-negotiated mathematics curriculum
development. This research started from the premise that a sharing of ideas by
parents and teachers about what and how mathematics should be taught could
reduce the gap between the home and school culture (Meaney, 1999, p. 85). This
belief in the advantages of including parents and teachers in the mathematics
curriculum development for indigenous students has not always been recognised.
When education was seen as a way to assimilate indigenous students into
mainstream society, parents were considered a hindrance to student achievement
either by reinforcing non-Western behaviour and values or through actual
resistance to education for assimilation (Deyhle & Swisher, 1997, p. 122-123). Even
with a change in the perceived purpose of education of indigenous students away
from assimilation, there have been few 'attempts to incorporate parents into
curriculum development. The time frame needed to test the premise would be
several generations long and was beyond the scope of this research project.
Instead, aspects of the curriculum development project were investigated to
understand the contributions of the school community and the involved outsider.
The three research questions were:
What are the dilemmas faced by an indigenous school community in the
development of a mathematics curriculum for their students?
How could a stand-alone document (such as the Framework I devised)
provide support in the process of community-negotiated mathematics
What kind of role can an involved outsider play within this mathematics
curriculum development process?
The research questions were cumulative so that the first answer provided a
starting point for investigating the second question and the second answer
provided background to the third question. Dilemmas were considered to be those
issues which caused the community to discuss the implications for their children's
learning of mathematics. By comparing the community's dilemmas with the issues
raised in the Fralnework, I could begin to investigate how useful the document
was as a support for the curriculum development process. From this, it was
anticipated that the more' general role of the involved outsider could be
This paper reports on the findings for the first research question. Although
some mention is made of the results of the other research questions, they are more
fully described in Meaney (2001).
Community members have expert knowledge about their students and
community, but may not feel confident in using this information to develop a
mathematicsIn order to facilitate this involvement, I designed a
support document, known as the Framework. (A web version of the Framework
can be found at http://aitken.scitec.auckland.ac.nz/~ t a m s i n / F r a m e w o r k W e b s i t e /
framework.html). Although other community-negotiated mathematics curriculum
development projects have occurred (Lipka, 1994; Watson-Verran, 1992), these had
involved outsiders acting as facilitators to the process. As many indigenous
communities are very small and in inaccessible parts of the world, facilitators are
, not always available or suitable. It therefore seemed important to produce a
resource which a community could modify so that it could provide any support
that was needed.
The Framework consisted of two parts (see Meaney, 1999, for more
information). These parts were a suggested process for curriculum development
and seven issues about aspects of mathematics curriculums. The process was based
on Freire's ideas of praxis and emphasised the need for reflection and action on
wider societal 'conditions which affected indigenous students'
mathematics. There were four parts to the suggested process. These were
discussion, reflection, research, and consensus decision-making. The parts were
interconnected and could be considered in any order or simultaneously.
The seven issues were the contexts in which the process could operate. They
had. been identified from an investigation of the literature on mathematics
education, indigenous education, and curriculum development. They were also
based upon my beliefs gained from working with Australian Aboriginal students
in the Northern Territory and from being involved in mathematics education
projects in Australia and Kiribati. The issues were mathematics in the school and
the community, sequence of student learning, teaching and learning mathematics,
language of instruction, assessment, teacher professional development, and
resources. With each of the issues, there was a brief background, discussion
questions, and some resources which showed how other indigenous communities
had responded. For example, in the issue on language of instruction the discussion
Will you use more than one language to teach the whole curriculum?
~ u r r i c u l u m .
What language will you use to teach mathematics?
All Indigenous C0111111llllity Doing Mathematics Curriculu111 Df(lelopment
•If some of.the teaching is in an indigenous language, do you want to make
any changes to the language?
What features of the mathematics register may need to be taught?•
The Framework was designed to be open enough that the community could
delete or add different issues, and modify examples and questions. As part of the
research, it was anticipated that the Framework would evolve so that feedback
from community members could result in changes to the process or to aspects of
The Research Project
As little research had been done on community-negotiated mathematics
curriculum development, it was appropriate to investigate whether the Framework
could fulfil the role of facilitator. A document could have advantages over a person
in that it was more open to interpretation and thus could be more easily adapted
by'a community to suit its particular needs. However, there was also the concern
that it was less flexible to the needs of a particular community and therefore might
not be able to provide the appropriate support.
By identifying community members' dilemmas and then comparing them with
the aspects of issues raised in the Framework, it was anticipated that a better sense
of how useful the Framework had been to the community could be gained. The
school involved was a Maori immersion school or Kura Kaupapa Maori in a
provincial city. It was a small school, having only four classes. Within Kura
Kaupapa Maori, "the pedagogy of these schools is based on, but not exclusively,
Maori preferred teaching and learning methods" (Smith, 1990 p. 147-148). There is
also an expectation that parents have an active role in the decision making process
within the school.
The research used an ethnographic case study approach. As the usefulness of
the Framework was to be evaluated, ideas from ethnographic educational
evaluation were used. Fetterman (1993) described ethnographic educational
the process and product of applying ethnographic techniques and concepts to
educational evaluation. Key elements of this approach involve conducting
fieldwork and maintaining a cultural perspective. Concepts that guide this effort
involve maintaining a holistic and contextual perspective, eliciting the emic or
insider's perspective about their reality and adopting a non-judgemental attitude.
Additional ethnographic tools include key informant interviewing; informal, semi-
traditionally used to understand socio-cultural systems, are applied to educational
evaluation in an attempt to assess more accurately the relative merits of a given
educational approach, setting or system. (p. 2)
Over the period 1998-1999, the community held nine meetings based on
different issues in the Framework. These were usually held on Sunday afternoons
and took between two to five hours. Parents and teachers were·also individually
interviewed, often more than once. All meetings and interviews were tape-
recorded and transcribed. In the final meeting, my findings were presented to the
school community so that they could be discussed. The dates for the meetings,
their codes, their topics, and the lengths of their transcripts are given below.
M1: October, 1998Issue 1 What is Mathematics?
M2: November, 1998 Issues 1 and 2
M3: March, 1999 Curriculum and Development Process
M4: March, 1999Issue 1 What is Mathematics?
M5: May, 1999Issue 2 Sequence of Student Learning
Issue 3 Teaching & Learning of Mathematics
M6: June, 1999 Issue 4 Language of Instruction
Issue 5 Assessments (parents not present)
M7: July, 1999 Issue 5 Assessment
Issue 6 Teacher Professional Development
Issue 7 Resources
M8: September, 1999Issue 8 Te Atll Mahta fthe Kura Kaupapa
M9: November, 1999Report back on the research study
Dilemmas were identified when one community member initiated a discussion
by asking a question of another community member and different opinions.were
expressed about what should be done. Sometimes, these opinions were divided
into two opposing views; at others, a range of different perspectives was
expressed. Although some dilemmas only arose during one meeting, many of them
became recurring themes throughout the project. In interviews, community
members were asked about dilemmas with respect to the Framework and
suggestions were sought on how the document could be adapted to be more
Thirty-four dilemmas were identified. Some examples were parents' inability
to help students with homework, whether traditional practices should be
An Indigellous Commullity Doillg Mathematics Curriculum Dcucl0PIllCllt
incorporated into a mathematics lesson/ and the impact of children's out of school
mathematics experiences being in English although their learning happened in
Maori. A dilemma about problem solving is described below. It provides a brief
summary of the interactions about the dilemma/ an extract taken from the
meetings and a comparison between the dilemma and the literature which was
examined as the Framework was being designed. A code such as Ml:p3 refers to
the fact that it was mentioned in the first meeting.on the third page of the
transcript. Teachers and parents are identified by either T or p/ respectively/
together with a code number.
Example 1: Problem solving. Problem solving was perceived as being important
(M1:p3/6/ M4:p14/ M5:plO)3/ M6:p15Al/ M7:p21, M8:p50), but was considered
difficult to assess and difficult to teach. The passage below was part of a discussion
in which parents described the different ways that they had worked on an activity.
They felt that students would need to know different strategies in order to be able
to make a choice about the most appropriateone.. ..
P2:See we've already been through the ma.ths systems, we already know
what systems are available to us, we already knowabout symmetry and
all that sort of stuff Qut our kids don't so if they know one system how do
we teach them the other systems that are possibly available for them to
be able to use? (M2:pS)
Discussion about the implications of constructivism for teaching suggests that
,there is value in students' solving problems. However, Lehrer & Shumow (1997,
p.42) believed that some parents were more concerned with the activity than
extending children's thinking. The raising of this dilemma provides evidence that
this was not the case for these parents.
If the dilemma was not something which had been raised in the Framework
then a decision was made about whether to include it. These decisions were
difficult to make and the basis on which they were to be made was not clear-cut.
Many of the parents had been adamant that the Framework as a document was
already too long. In order to keep additions to a minimum, I tried to focus only on
the dilemmas which related to the indigenous nature of the students. Some
dilemmas raised by this community reminded me of discussions and incidents
which had happened in other indigenous communities. In these cases, I was more
than likely to include the dilemma within the Framework, usually by adding
. another discussion question. The community had found the discussion questions
by far the most useful part of the. Framework and the meetings would often
revolve around answering these.
In order to determine any patterns in the dilemmas, they were grouped in
different ways. Initially, dilemmas were divided into three groups: those which
would be relevant to all schools, those related to indigenous schools which were
within a Western education system/ and those pertinent to any indigenous school.
Dilemmas relating to all schools included the role of basic facts and learning