Grant Reynolds

Mathematician days work to increase engagement in schools

Researchers who are part of the ongoing Inspiring Mathematics and Science in Teacher Education (IMSITE) project have launched a new program to improve the quality of mathematics teaching in schools.

Work Like A Mathematician days bring together current students of UOW with local gifted Year 8 and Year 9 high school students in whiteboard tutorial rooms on campus, to give them a taste of what mathematicians do as part of their professional practice. 

IMSITE project leaders Dr Caz Sandison and Dr Tricia Forrester said it was vital to encourage tertiary students with substantial mathematics and science knowledge and communications skills to contribute to mathematics and science education.

“At present, approximately 40 per cent of mathematics classes in years seven to ten is taught by teachers without mathematics teaching qualifications,” Dr Sandison said.

“The mathematical literacy of the population is in decline on the world stage with an increase in the number of countries out-performing Australia.

“We need students with skills to bridge the gap between the novice and the expert, enabling increased involvement in the community.”

IMSITE was launched late last year by the Australian government, with the aim of improving the quality of teaching in both mathematics and science. The $2.2 million project is led by The University of Queensland and includes researchers from James Cook University, the University of Newcastle, The University of Sydney, The University of Tasmania and UOW.

“The different institutions are trying a variety of programs that suit their own context. The project is not about uniformity, rather it is about diversity in practice and developing good, solid programs that aim to recruit, train and retain mathematics and science teachers,” Dr Forrester said.

Dr Sandison and Dr Forrester came up with the whiteboard-focused program to give high school students experience in “working like a mathematician” and to expose UOW students to different teaching environments.

“The whiteboard tutorial rooms have been used for first year tutorials at UOW for more than 20 years. They are an excellent environment for collaborative learning, particularly in problem solving, and they reflect what mathematicians often do in practice.”

The project’s aims coincide with the Chief Scientist’s strategy for the future of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in Australia, released on 2 September. The strategy outlines what we need to do to build a stronger, more competitive Australia within these fields.

Although the UOW based program is in its early days, Dr Sandison and Dr Forrester believe it will have positive outcomes.

“The anecdotal research and feedback for the days is quite positive in favour of the engagement possibility of the whiteboards classrooms for the high school students.”

The next ‘Work Like A Mathematician’ days are scheduled for late October.