About 300 teachers are leading a change in the way maths is taught as part of a bid to arrest Australian students’ declining or stagnating numeracy results and reverse the drop in students choosing to study maths after year 10.
The teachers are the first to join a new national program that aims to “address critical issues in teaching maths”, such as ensuring that all students are included, engaged and challenged, the program’s executive director Steve Thornton said.
Dr Thornton said the reSolve: Maths by Inquiry program, which provides a range of classroom resources and professional learning tools to teachers, is built around “banishing the idea that maths is about ticking boxes, and developing a deep connection between maths and the real world”.
Chief executive of program partner the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers, Will Morony, said many teachers “are still teaching in traditional ways that don’t engage students or create a passion for maths”.
“The background papers [for the project] indicated there were significant areas of Australian maths provision that can and should be improved and that’s certainly guiding the way for this.”
Mr Morony said he expects that the program will lead to improvements in NAPLAN and PISA maths results “in the long term”, as well as increasing students’ interest in the subject.
The latest PISA results placed Australian students two-and-a-half years behind in maths compared to students in the top performing country, Singapore.
Maths was also identified as Australia’s weakest subject area in comparison to other OECD nations.
A full report of this year’s NAPLAN results has not yet been released, although initial figures point to an improvement in stagnating numeracy results at the year 9 level.
However, fewer students are choosing HSC maths subjects than in previous years, with 77.6 per cent of last year’s year 12 cohort enrolled in a maths course in 2016 compared to 82.6 per cent in 2006.
The $6.4 million program is being funded by Turnbull government as part of its aim of improving science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education.
The resources, which have been developed over nearly two years by the Australian Academy of Science in collaboration with the AAMT with feedback from teachers and academics, include a range of classroom activities that build on the curriculum and branch out to “special topics” such as coding and engineering.
The initial group of 300 teachers began using the tools in August this year and will promote the program within their schools and regions.
About 60 NSW teachers met in Sydney during the school holidays to discuss their use of the resources and provide initial feedback.
Denise Halliday, who is a maths teacher at Cherrybrook Technology High School in Sydney’s north-west, said the resources are “very different to a historical model of teaching”.
“They’re much more about students investigating and exploring. Rather than teaching a student a method of solving a problem and saying, go away and do 20 of these, we’re only doing two problems and getting really deep into them,” Ms Halliday said.
“With students actively solving problems and gaining enjoyment from maths, eventually that should flow into better retention at senior levels, especially with more girls and lower-achieving students feeling like maths is for them.”
Shannon Ruskin, who is a year 2 teacher at Wollongbar Public School in northern NSW, said that inquiry-based learning is already being used in other subject areas but teachers often struggle to implement it in maths.
“Maths is so often being rote learned and kids have a fear of it, they think that if they can’t remember it they’re not good at it,” Ms Ruskin said.
“I think we’ve been too obsessed by data and driven by results and that push to have evidence on paper. This is bringing the fun and joy back into learning.”