Professional learning and Primary Mathematics: Engaging teachers to engage students February 24, 2015Posted by christinefjohnston in Directions in Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
Tags: educational leadership, mathematics education
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The issue of student engagement with mathematics is a constant topic of discussion and concern within and beyond the classroom and the school, yet how much attention is given to the engagement of teachers? I am a firm believer that one of the foundational requirements for engaging our students with mathematics is a teacher who is enthusiastic, knowledgeable, confident, and passionate about mathematics teaching and learning – that is, a teacher who is engaged with mathematics. Research has proven that the biggest influence on student engagement with mathematics is the teacher, and the pedagogical relationships and practices that are developed and implemented in day to day teaching (Attard, 2013).
A regular challenge for me as a pre-service and in-service teacher educator is to re-engage teachers who have ‘switched off’ mathematics, or worse still, never had a passion for teaching mathematics to begin with. Now, more than ever, we need teachers who are highly competent in teaching primary mathematics and numeracy. The recent release of the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG) (2014) report, Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers, included a recommendation that pre-service primary teachers graduate with a subject specialisation prioritising science, mathematics, or a language (Recommendation 18). In the government’s response (Australian Government: Department of Education and Training, 2015), they agree “greater emphasis must be given to core subjects of literacy and numeracy” and will be instructing AITSL to “require universities to make sure that every new primary teacher graduates with a subject specialisation” (p.8). While this is very welcome news, we need to keep in mind that we have a substantial existing teaching workforce, many of whom should consider becoming subject specialists. It is now time for providers of professional development, including tertiary institutions, to provide more opportunities for all teachers, regardless of experience, to improve their knowledge and skills in mathematics teaching and learning, and re-engage with the subject.
So what professional learning can practicing teachers access in order to become ‘specialists’, and what models of professional learning/development are the most effective? Literature on professional learning (PL) describes two common models: the traditional type of activities that involve workshops, seminars and conferences, and reform type activities that incorporate study groups, networking, mentoring and meetings that occur in-situ during the process of classroom instruction or planning time (Lee, 2007). Although it is suggested that the reform types of PL are more likely to make connections to classroom teaching and may be easier to sustain over time, Lee (2007) argues there is a place for traditional PL or a combination of both, which may work well for teachers at various stages in their careers. An integrated approach to PD is supported by the NSW Institute of Teachers (2012).
In anticipation of the TEMAG recommendations for subject specialisation, I have been involved in the design and implementation of a new, cutting edge course to be offered by the University of Western Sydney, the Graduate Certificate of Primary Mathematics Education, aimed at producing specialist primary mathematics educators. The fully online course will be available from mid 2015 to pre-service and in-service teachers. Graduates of the course will develop deep mathematics pedagogical content knowledge, a strong understanding of the importance of research-based enquiry to inform teaching and skills in mentoring and coaching other teachers of mathematics. For those teachers who are hesitant to commit to completing a full course of study, the four units of the Graduate Certificate will be broken up into smaller modules that can be completed through the Education Knowledge Network (www.uws.edu.au/ekn) from 2016 as accredited PL through the Board of Studies Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES).
In addition to continuing formal studies, I would encourage teachers to join a professional association. In New South Wales, the Mathematical Association of NSW (MANSW) (http://www.mansw.nsw.edu.au) provides many opportunities for the more traditional types of professional learning, casual TeachMeets, as well as networking through the many conferences offered. An additional source of PL provided by professional associations are their journals, which usually offer high quality, research-based teaching ideas. The national association, Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers (AAMT) has a free, high quality resource, Top Drawer Teachers (http://topdrawer.aamt.edu.au), that all teachers have access to, regardless of whether you are a member of the organisation or not. Many more informal avenues for professional learning are also available through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin, as well as blogs such as this.
Given that teachers have so much influence on the engagement of students, it makes sense to assume that when teachers themselves are disengaged and lack confidence or the appropriate pedagogical content knowledge for teaching mathematics, the likelihood of students becoming and remaining engaged is significantly decreased, in turn effecting academic achievement. The opportunities that are now emerging for pre-service and in-service teachers to increase their skills and become specialist mathematics teachers is an important and timely development in teacher education and will hopefully result in improved student engagement and academic achievement.
Attard, C. (2013). “If I had to pick any subject, it wouldn’t be maths”: Foundations for
engagement with mathematics during the middle years. Mathematics Education Research Journal, 25(4), 569-587.
Australian Government: Department of Education and Training (2015). Teacher
education ministerial advisory group. Action now: Classroom ready teachers. Australian Government Response.
Lee, H. (2007). Developing an effective professional development model to enhance teachers’ conceptual understanding and pedagogical strategies in mathematics. Journal of Educational Thought, 41(2), 125.
NSW Institute of Teachers. (2012). Continuing professional development policy – supporting the maintenance of accreditation at proficient teacher/professional competence. . Retrieved from file:///Users /Downloads/Continuing%20Professional%20Development%20Policy.pdf.
Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (2014). Action now: Classroom ready
Mathematics, technology, and 21st Century learners: How much technology is too much? February 10, 2015Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Early Childhood Education, Primary Education, Role of the family.
Tags: mathematics education, parenting, technology and education
from Catherine Attard
On a recent visit to a shopping centre in Sydney, I noticed a new children’s playground had been installed. On closer inspection (see the photos below) I was amazed to find a cubby house structure that had a number of iPads built into it. There was also a phone charging station built less than a metre off the ground, for users of the playground to access.
The playground had obviously been designed for very young children. So what’s the problem? Shouldn’t playgrounds be meant for physical activity? What messages are the designers of this playground sending to children and their parents? Does technology have to pervade every aspect of our lives? What damage is this doing to children’s social and physical skills?
While considering the implications of this technology-enhanced playground, I began to reflect on the ways we use technology in the classroom.
Is there such as thing as having too much technology? I am a strong supporter of using technology to enhance teaching and learning, and I know there are a multitude of benefits for students and teachers, particularly in relation to the use of mobile technologies (Attard 2014, 2013).
However, there are issues and tensions. How do we, as educators, balance the use of technology with what we already know works well? For example, in any good mathematics classroom, students would be manipulating concrete materials to assist in building understandings of important mathematical concepts. Children are engaged in hands-on mathematical investigations and problem solving, arguing, reasoning and communicating through the language of mathematics.
Can technology replace the kinesthetic and social aspects of good mathematics lessons? How do we find the right balance? Do students actually want more technology in the classroom, or do they prefer a more hands-on and social approach?
Often we use technology in the classroom to bridge the ‘digital divide’ between students’ home lives and school. We know this generation has access to technology outside the school, and we often assume that students are more engaged when we incorporate digital technologies into teaching and learning.
In the The App Generation, Gardner and Davis (2013) discuss how our current generation relies on technology in almost every aspect of their lives. They make some important points that can translate to how we view the use of the technology in the classroom:
Apps can make you lazy, discourage the development of new skills, limit you to mimicry or tiny trivial tweaks or tweets – or they can open up whole new worlds for imagining, creating, producing, remixing, even forging new identities and enabling rich forms of intimacy (p. 33).
Gardner and Davis argue that young people are so immersed in apps, they often view their world as a string of apps. If the use of apps allows us to pursue new possibilities, we are ‘app-enabled’. Conversely, if the use and reliance on apps restricts and determines procedures, choices and goals, the users become ‘app-dependent’ (2013). If we view this argument through the lens of mathematics classrooms, the use of apps could potentially restrict the learning of mathematics and limit teaching practices, or they could provide opportunities for creative pedagogy and for students to engage in higher order skills and problem solving.
So how do educators strike the right balance when it comes to technology? I often promote the use of the SAMR model (Puentedura, 2006) as a good place to start when planning to use technology. The SAMR model (Puentedura, 2006) represents a series of levels of “incremental technology integration within learning environments” (van Oostveen, Muirhead, & Goodman, 2011, p. 82).
However, the model is not without limitations. Although it describes four clear levels of technology integration, I believe there should be another level, ‘distraction’, to describe the use of technology that detracts from learning. I also think the model is limited in that it assumes that integration at the lower levels, substitution and augmentation, cannot enhance students’ engagement. What is important is the way the technology is embedded in teaching and learning. Any tool is only as good as the person using it, and if we use the wrong tool, we minimise learning opportunities.
Is there such a thing as having too much technology? Although our students’ futures will be filled with technologies we haven’t yet imagined, I believe we still need to give careful consideration to how, what, when and why we use technology, particularly in the mathematics classroom. If students develop misconceptions around important mathematical concepts, we risk disengagement, the development of negative attitudes and students turning away from further study of mathematics in the later years of schooling and beyond.
As for the technology-enhanced playground, there is a time and a place for learning with technology. I would rather see young children running around, playing and laughing with each other rather than sitting down and interacting with an iPad!
Attard C, 2014, iPads in the primary mathematics classroom: exploring the experiences of four teachers in Empowering the Future Generation Through Mathematics Education, White, Allan L., Tahir, Suhaidah binti, Cheah, Ui Hock, Malaysia, pp 369-384. Penang: SEMEO RECSAM.
Attard, C. (2013). Introducing iPads into Primary Mathematics Pedagogies: An Exploration of Two Teachers’ Experiences. Paper presented at the Mathematics education: Yesterday, today and tomorrow (Proceedings of the 36th Annual conference of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia), Melbourne.
Gardner, H, & Davis, K. (2013). The app generation. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Puentedura, R. (2006). SAMR. Retrieved July 16, 2013, from www.hippasus.com
van Oostveen, R, Muirhead, William, & Goodman, William M. (2011). Tablet PCs and reconceptualizing learning with technology: a case study in higher education. Interactive Technology and Smart Education, 8(2), 78-93. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17415651111141803
Dr Catherine Attard is a senior lecturer in mathematics education at the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She is is currently the president of the Mathematical Association of New South Wales and secretary of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia, and has contributed a number of posts on mathematics education to this blog.
Tags: children with special needs, food allergy, health and physical education
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Soon, a number of children with food allergy will be starting school in Australia. When children are transitioning to school with food allergy, parents will be concerned about their child’s safe and inclusive participation in all school activities, increased risks of food allergy via accidental exposure from others, how quickly a child’s allergy can be identified and addressed and importantly, whether a young child has the capacity to stay safe at school (Sanagavarapu, 2012).
Before children start school, parents assume a primary responsibility for their young child’s safety. However, at the time of starting school, it’s imperative that children also assume some responsibility for their safety at school where there will be diminished adult or parental supervision.
But the question is, can a 4 and a half year old (the starting age for schools in New South Wales) understand his or her food allergy and what an allergic reaction is, and alert his or her teacher to the allergic reaction promptly and seek timely help? Can young children resist the temptation to accept unsafe foods when offered by their peers at school? Can they advocate for their own safety, age appropriately? Or is it too much to ask a young child to take responsibility for his or her safety and the management of food allergy at school?
Adolescents are cognitively and emotionally competent to grasp the implications of food allergy (e.g., Fenton et al., 2011) and can manage to stay safe independently. However, it is not known if young children understand their food allergy and its implications and can stay safe at school with limited adult supervision.
Our pilot study on ‘Starting school with food allergy’ (Sanagavarapu, Said, Katelaris & Wainstein, 2014), funded by Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia, has provided valuable insights into children’s knowledge and understanding of food allergy and safety at school. In this study interviews were conducted with six children affected by food allergy, aged between four and a half to six years old, in Sydney, Australia.
These interviews with children have pointed to the need to scaffold young children’s knowledge of their own food allergy, and of their safety and its self-management, at the time of starting school.
To stay safe, children must be able to recognise foods that they are allergic to and avoid them by all means, essentially by resisting temptations to accept or share such foods with others.
All children in our study named the foods that they can and can’t eat, and most children also recognised those affected foods from photos shown in the interview. Further, all children knew the various symptoms of food allergy, saying things like:
“ I keep coughing and coughing”; “my mouth gets funny”; “sometimes I scratch my mouth when it’s itchy and it takes a while to get unitchy”; “I start to vomit and get spots”.
One child even mentioned the prospect of a fatality from an allergic reaction (commenting, “You will die”), while another child labelled the condition medically (saying, “I also have anaphylaxis”).
Additionally, most children had a range of strategies to prevent the potential risks of food allergy. These included refusing to accept foods from others, checking with teacher or mum, and peer education through to a simple and effective strategy of hand washing. To quote:
“I try my best to not eat”.
“I say stop”.
“Even if they told me it is yummy, I say “I can’t eat them”.
“At big school you don’t share food”.
“I only eat my own food”.
But, not all children seemed to be able to resist temptations to accept foods, and some children trusted their peers’ assurances and risk assessments, which can be potentially risky. To quote:
“if my friend says, it does not have eggs or nuts, I will have it”.
“I would ask if it had nuts and if it did not I would eat it”.
In terms of seeking help, all children knew who to go for help when needed. They said it would be their class teacher in the first instance, and or friends at school. Drawing from their own knowledge and experiences of food allergy, children in our study offered advice to other children which included:
• Tell others you have food allergy;
• Don’t eat foods you are allergic to, and
• Don’t share food with others.
This advice from children implies a preventative approach to safety that corresponds with the preventative approaches that parents generally take in the management of food allergy, because currently there is no known cure for allergy. The most effective way to manage food allergy is to prevent the risks in the first instance, and administer antihistamine and adrenaline autoinjector if needed.
The advice provided by children in this study to other children starting school is simple, yet invaluable in reducing the risks of food allergy at school. Although based on a small sample, our study findings offer valuable implications and suggestions to parents, teachers and children in promoting the safety of children with food allergy at school. They are below.
For parents or caregivers
• Talk to your child age appropriately about his or her food allergy and its symptoms, without alarming them about the consequences of food allergy.
• Help your child to recognise and label foods that he or she is allergic to in various forms and via grocery shopping, books, and through pictures in advertising materials and catalogues.
• Age appropriately, also assist your child to recognise and read food labels.
• Encourage your child to share information on his or her food allergy with teachers and peers at school, and with before and or after school staff.
• Raise the awareness of your child’s classmates on food allergy with the help of the school/class teacher.
• Develop simple scripts with your child that she or he can use to communicate when unwell and to seek help from an adult or peer at school when needed.
• Reinforce the simple message of ‘no sharing or accepting foods’ from others and that they eat their own lunch/tea.
• Scaffold self-control strategies with the child to resist temptations, albeit at varying levels, and age appropriately via reading stories, mock sessions and role plays before children start school and in the transitional periods.
For educators or schools
• Incorporate the simple message of ‘no sharing or accepting of food’ into classroom discussions and promote and implement policy of ‘no sharing of food’.
• Raise the awareness of all children about food allergy through the reading of stories about children starting school with food allergy or other strategies.
• Scaffold self-control strategies to resist temptations, albeit at varying levels, and age appropriately via reading stories, mock sessions and role plays at school.
• Collaborate and communicate with parents or caregivers on matters of the food allergy management to promote child safety.
• Know your food allergy.
• Do not share foods with others.
• Say ‘no’ to food politely when offered from others, even friends.
• Let an adult or peer know when feeling unwell.
Fenton, N.E., J. S. Elliott, L. Cicutto, A. E. Clarke, L. Harada, and E. McPhee. (2011). Illustrating Risk: Anaphylaxis Through the Eyes of the Food-Allergic Child, Risk Analysis, DOI: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.2010.01488.x
Sanagavarpu, P., Said, M., Katelaris, C., Wainstein, B. (2014). Starting school with food allergy: Listening to parents’ and children’s voices. Research Report Commissioned by and prepared for Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia. University of Western Sydney, Australia.
Sanagavarapu, P. (2012). Don’t forget to pack my EpiPen® please? What issues does food allergy present for children’s starting school? Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 37 (2), 56-61.
Dr. Prathyusha Sanagavarapu is a senior lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. Her research interests include the areas of starting school, food allergy and children’s health, and issues around family diversity and parenting.