$2.2million project to boost Australia’s maths and science literacy
UOW researchers are involved in a collaborative $2.2million project that aims to improve the quality of teaching in both mathematics and science in Australia.
The collaborative ‘Inspiring mathematics and science in teacher education’ project, which has just been funded by the Australian Government through the Office for Learning and Teaching, is led by The University of Queensland and includes researchers from James Cook University, The University of Newcastle, The University of Sydney, University of Tasmania as well as UOW.
Australia, along with many other countries, has experienced a persistent decline in participation in post-compulsory mathematics in schools and universities, with a recent study revealing that 28 per cent of Australian teachers having either studied no university mathematics at all or none beyond first year and one third of junior secondary mathematics teachers having never studied mathematics teaching methods.
UOW project coordinator Dr Caz Sandison said that this trend reduces Australia’s research and development capacity in the physical, biological and social sciences, technology, business and industry, and also limits the supply of graduates who are qualified to teach mathematics in schools.
However, Dr Sandison said the problem of effective teaching of mathematics is not confined to secondary schools.
“Australian and international research confirms that a high proportion of pre-service primary teachers have inadequate understanding of the mathematical concepts they will be required to teach, as well as negative attitudes towards mathematics. These combine to produce a lack of confidence in their ability to teach mathematics effectively,” she said.
Interestingly, it has been shown that prior achievement in mathematics influences participation in science. A 2008 study found that the level of Year 12 student participation in science (particularly physics and chemistry) was strongly related to earlier achievements in Year 9 mathematics. The study found that students achieving highly in mathematics were eleven times more likely to study chemistry and up to fifteen times more likely to study physics in upper secondary school.
The project will focus on improving the preparation of teachers of mathematics and science in the middle years of schooling – that is, the upper primary and lower secondary years.
“The middle years are a time when students form academic aspirations and make subject choices that determine whether, and how successfully, they will participate in senior secondary and university mathematics and science,” Dr Sandison said.
By improving recruitment and retention strategies that promote teaching careers to undergraduate mathematics and science students, developing innovative curriculum that inspire pre-service teachers to explore the rich relationships between mathematics and science, and building new approaches to enable teachers to continually renew their professional and pedagogical knowledge of mathematics and science, the project aims to boost Australia’s maths and science literacy.
The project, which involves UOW academics Dr Tricia Forrester, Associate Professor Rodney Vickers, Associate Professor Annette Worthy and Dr Sandison, will be completed in 2017.