Why is it that so many students struggle with numeracy? Is it coincidence that Asian countries out perform the rest of the world when it comes to maths? Do we as teachers perpetuate the view that maths is intrinsically difficult?
Seven years ago, the National Numeracy Review recommended greater emphasis in the early years be given to ‘providing students with frequent exposure to higher-level mathematical problems.’ It went on to state that it should be in a context that is relevant to the learner. I still hear adults say that learning algebra or long division was a complete waste of time.
Central to deconstructing the myth of Mathematics is about contextualising the learning. How can teachers make mathematics relevant to each learner and therefore more engaging and challenging?
Professor Peter Sullivan from Monash University says we have a fundamental problem with teaching Mathematics and we need to think differently about the way we teach maths in primary and secondary.
As a result of the Review, we introduced three system initiatives which invest in the professional learning and competency of teachers supported by leaders. Our approach has always been that improving teacher understanding and learning improves student understanding and learning.
We are fortunate to have partnered with Professor Sullivan on the EM4 (English Mathematics Stage 4) program. It began last year as ‘first wave’ teaching in English and Mathematics in secondary schools. It is about creating opportunities for students to enhance and extend their skills and knowledge. These strategies all rely on data and professional learning to inform good practice. For me, these should be evident across all key learning areas not only English and Mathematics. However, without a solid foundation in literacy and numeracy, we cannot build upon a student’s learning.
EM4’s premise is to get students to think creatively about problem solving by posing questions that they don’t know how to do. Professor Sullivan makes the point that we have taught maths by telling students what to do and then getting them to practice what they are told. However, in this model, students create the maths not the teachers.
It’s a move away from the one approach fits all in favour of the many paths to the top of the mountain. According to the data being collected by Professor Sullivan, student-driven learning is leading to a deeper understanding of Mathematics.
I have been amazed when visiting these classrooms by the rich mathematical discussions between students. Very different from my experiences of school maths. Many of the teachers I speak to acknowledge that these strategies have led to a shift in practice and a new way of seeing their role in supporting rather than driving learning.
This “open to learning” approach by both the teacher and the student is the powerful engine driving a very different schooling experience . What is not made explicit, but is at the core of this approach is the shift of responsibility for the learning. For the teacher it is recognising that the curriculum requirements but then engaging in designing learning experience for each student. For the student it shifts the focus from one right answer to the process of how they arrived at that answer. Ultimately they both take responsibility for their learning.