Teacher Staffroom Episode 17: Let's talk about maths

From Teacher magazine, I'm Rebecca Vukovic, and you're listening to an episode of Teacher Staffroom, where we catch you up on the latest evidence, insight and action.

Mathematics education has been a clear focus of our editorial content here at Teacher magazine this month, and in this episode, I'm going to share some of the highlights. From practical activities, to strategies for returning to the maths classroom, to some of the latest research to be published on financial literacy – I'll bring you up to speed. At the same time, I'll be sharing some pieces on curriculum reform and requirements, as well as some contributions written by teachers, school leaders and researchers. Let's jump in.

The first piece I'd like to share involved an interview with Professor Peter Sullivan from Monash University where we discuss a paper he led published in the Mathematics Education Research Journal. The paper offers advice to educators on strategies for welcoming students back to the maths classroom.

Because as students return to classrooms after COVID-19 lockdowns, the authors suggest teachers should focus on rebuilding relationships, avoid rushing through missed content, and preference a deep understanding of a few topics over a superficial understanding of many.

Here's a quote from Peter from the article where he cautions against rushing through content in an attempt to ‘catch up' students who may have fallen behind.

I think one of the real risks that the system can make, the principals can make, is putting pressure on teachers to cover the 12 months of curriculum in the nine months they have available. If they try to do that, the people who suffer most are the people who probably suffered the most from the remote learning. And so it's very important, just from an equity point of view, that teachers take their time in re-engaging the students with school.

Here's something to think about: As a maths teacher, how have you managed the return to face-to-face lessons after a period of remote learning? What have been the particular challenges for you and your students?

This next piece is a reader submission from Lanella Sweet, an Enrichment Teacher at Wesley College in Melbourne. In the article she shares examples of classroom investigations designed to help students understand and develop their use of mathematical language, and its links with other areas of the curriculum.

Lanella says students need to be familiar with subject appropriate language and the use of concise and precise wording from a young age, in order to be successful across all areas of the curriculum. At Wesley College, she says they have been developing students' communication skills and use of appropriate language to develop rich, deeper curriculum connections.

I'll link to this article, and in fact, all the articles I mention in this episode, in the transcript for this podcast at teachermagazine.com.au. So if you'd like to read the full piece, that's where you'll be able to find it.

Moving on now – the International Mathematical Modeling Challenge is an annual competition, which aims to support the real-world application of mathematical learning. The competition is coordinated in Australia by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) and this year 102 teams submitted reports for judgement across the country, with 14 teams recognised as national finalists.

This month we published two pieces on the modeling challenge. In this first one, my colleague Dominique Russell spoke with two teachers who guided students through the competition. They discuss how they extended students with this real world application of maths, and how they managed to complete the five-day challenge during the period of remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the second piece, Ross Turner, a Principal Research Fellow at ACER and the person who leads Australia's involvement in the competition, unpacks the details of the problem presented to participating students this year.

The 2020 problem for the International Mathematical Modeling Challenge asked teams to review data on goods to be offered during a ‘flash sale' in order to identify which sale items would likely be most popular and the store layout factors that might affect damage risks during a potentially frenzied sale event.

Ross says teams were also asked to create and evaluate a new and better floor plan for the flash sale scenario, and write a one-page letter to the store manager presenting and supporting their findings.

Here's a quote from the piece:

Strengthening the connections between the mathematical knowledge students are acquiring through their maths class work is an outcome we would all see as highly desirable. Working with a mathematical modelling perspective on problems that arise in the ‘real world' provides an excellent way of strengthening those connections.

This month saw the return of video content from regular contributor, Holly Millican, from South Grafton High School in New South Wales. In her video, Holly shares three activities she uses in her classroom to support her lessons on ratio.

Here's a short audio snippet from the video:

Ratio is one of my absolute favourite topics to teach because it's one of those really great ones that relates to real life on so many different levels and students of all age groups and levels of mathematical knowledge can very easily see exactly how this topic does relate to real life, so it's a really fun one for that.

After watching the video, here's something to consider: What activities do you use to relate the theory of ratio to real world scenarios? Do you find that games help students to grasp these concepts and see how they are applied to everyday life?

And finally, before we move on from the topic of mathematics, I'd like to share two pieces of content we published on financial literacy this month. The first one is an infographic that explored some of the key international data to come from the PISA study of students' financial literacy skills. If you're interested in checking it out, you'll find it on the Teacher website.

While the infographic focused on an international perspective, last week the Australian Council for Educational Research released a report that analyses Australian students' performance in that 2018 PISA Financial Literacy survey. In a Research Files podcast episode, I spoke to one of the report's co-authors, Lisa DeBortoli. We discuss some of the key findings to come from the report and what students were required to do for this assessment. You'll also hear Lisa share more about the proficiency levels, what they mean, and the kind of knowledge and skills that students are typically capable of displaying at each level, as well as some practical examples.

Here's an excerpt from the podcast ­– it's Lisa discussing the high performing students from Australia:

Overall, I think Australian students have performed really well in financial literacy. Of the 20 participating countries and economies, only four countries outperformed Australia and Australia outperformed 13 countries and economies. In terms of the highest and lowest performing students, 14 per cent of Australian students were high performers and 16 per cent of students were low performers. For the groups of students that have demonstrated the high skills of knowledge in financial literacy, they are to be congratulated.

That was Lisa DeBortoli there.

Here's something to consider: Think about the students in your class or school setting. How knowledgeable are they about money matters and financial literacy? How do you work to build on these skills to ensure they're able to perform day-to-day tasks like paying a bill or choosing a mobile phone plan?

Earlier this month, Professor Geoff Masters penned a new column that discusses three aspects of the curriculum identified as being in need of reform, drawing on state-wide consultations and submissions to his review of the New South Wales Curriculum. Geoff says many people saw reform as essential if young people are to be better prepared for their futures and the changing world of work.

Here's a quote from Geoff from the article:

Some teachers described a sense of skating across the surface of the curriculum. There was little time to explore concepts in depth or to provide a range of examples to help students see the relevance of what they're taught or how it can be applied in different contexts. I was reminded of American references to ‘mile-wide', ‘inch-deep' curricula in which everything seems equally important. A new curriculum should contain less content. It should identify a core of essential concepts, principles and methods in each subject and prioritise these over more peripheral facts and routines. It should draw on research to do this, and to plan students' progressive acquisition of essential knowledge and understandings across the years of school. And it should support teachers to focus their teaching on deep understanding. As one person put it, when it comes to the curriculum, less is more.

Still on the topic of curriculum, due to the disruption to education caused by COVID-19, school leaders and teachers are considering how to best meet curriculum and assessment requirements for the rest of the 2020 school year. In this article, Dominique Russell took a close look at the official advice given to educators across the country on where some flexibility would be appropriate. COVID-19 has affected different areas of Australia in different ways, so the challenges faced by educators are not always the same. If you're interested in reading the full piece, check it out at our website.

Finally, it's worth reminding listeners that Teacher accepts contributions from educators – whatever their role, school sector or location.

For example, this month we've published pieces on a school in Western Australia that captured how students feel about the COVID-19 pandemic via an online survey. There was another piece where a Victorian teacher shared her experiences as a Learning Specialist and a researcher from South Australia shared how she's been carrying out a study that investigates whether using industry partners to provide the focus for students working in STEM fields, helps develop their skills.

So, if you'd like to get involved, check out the submission guidelines on our website and send your pitch to teachereditorial@acer.org

That's all from me, and you're all caught up on the latest evidence, insight and action. All the links to content and resources are in the transcript of this episode, which you'll be able to find under the podcast tab at our website teachermagazine.com.au. Thanks for listening.