Championing maths by inquiry

A new Australia-wide initiative promoting innovative approaches to mathematics teaching and learning that engage and challenge students is on the hunt for hundreds of teacher champions.

The reSolve: Mathematics by Inquiry project is developing units of work and classroom resources for Foundation to Year 10 linked to the Australian Curriculum: Mathematics, and professional learning modules for teachers.

In addition to the free materials, there will also be a ‘human legacy' – 240 reSolve Champions working in all states and territories, sectors and in a variety of school contexts.

The project is a collaboration between the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers (AAMT). It's also part of the National STEM School Education Strategy 2016-2026 and comes at a time when Australian student performance in maths is flatlining, a substantial proportion of Australian 15-year-olds are failing to meet the National Proficient Standard, and Year 12 high-level mathematics participation is declining.

reSolve Executive Director Dr Steve Thornton tells Teacher one of the thrusts of the project is to look at the real-world application of mathematics. It's also about creating a spirit of inquiry and risk taking ‘encouraging students to think mathematically, to ask questions' and encouraging teachers to use engaging pedagogies.

Thornton explains the central plank of the whole project is a maths by inquiry protocol that has been developed, highlighting three critical elements. ‘First of all, that mathematics is purposeful. And by that we mean that it's not just about teaching the curriculum – it's more than that, there's a reason for doing it, maths is connected, coherent.

‘Secondly that the mathematical tasks are challenging and accessible. That's emphasising that students ought to in maths lessons not do stuff that they already know how to do, because they don't learn anything. It's also about challenging [teachers] to push the boundaries in a way that is accessible to everybody.

‘Then the third element is that classrooms have a supportive knowledge-building culture. That's to try to emphasise that interactions in the classroom, the way a teacher relates to the students, is all around building mathematical knowledge. … Australian classrooms are often nice places to be but often the deep learning that goes on is sometimes questionable.'

One of the major roles of the AAMT is to recruit and train the champions. A free 12 month online and face-to-face professional learning program, starting in July, is designed to give them the knowledge, experience and skills to use the approaches and materials and lead others.

Will Morony, Chief Executive Officer of the AAMT, says there's no set view of what champions will do. The majority will be located in their schools, so they may just work with colleagues, but they could also link up with other local teachers or be a resource across a school cluster or hub. Education systems are also being encouraged to think about how they can best use the champions. ‘[They'll] be taking the message of the protocol and the messages of Mathematics by Inquiry forward in ways that are locally designed and developed. So, we're trying to create an ownership of these champions. They will be catalysts.'

You don't need to be an award winner or a maths specialist be a reSolve Champion; indeed, educators who are teaching out of field will be welcomed with open arms. Reflecting on his own experience as a passionate maths teacher, Thornton says his way of thinking about the subject didn't always connect with colleagues. ‘I think it's actually really important that people communicate with … their group of colleagues and peers and likeminded people. So, that also extends to I think a deliberate strategy that we have to have a really good cross-section of champions – which might also include champions with particular interests in schooling, such as Indigenous education or special ed.'

Teachers interested in becoming a reSolve Champion are required to submit an expression of interest by 10 April, 2017. To find out more about the program and how to apply to become a champion, visit You can also keep in touch with project developments, including details on resources, through the Academy website.

How do you encourage students to take risks in their learning?

Think about a recent maths lesson you taught. Were students asked to tackle something they were already proficient in, or did the tasks challenge them?

In what ways do you provide students with opportunities to apply what they're learning in maths to the real world?