Mathematics is beautiful

Mathematics has an “identity crisis” and perspectives on the subject need to broaden so opportunities can be created for all students to be and feel successful at mathematics.

That is the view of Michelle Tregoning, leader mathematics professional learning for the NSW Mathematics Strategy, who spoke with Secretary Mark Scott on the Every Student Podcast about the department’s approach to helping students develop the mathematical skills and understanding they need to succeed in life.

Ms Tregoning said the historical narrative around mathematics needed to be disrupted so that parents and teachers all saw a place for them in mathematics to help extend that to their students.

“There is a tricky emotional space around mathematics because [historically] you are either good at mathematics because you are the first person to the right answer, or you’re bad at mathematics because you’re not the first person to the right answer,” Ms Tregoning said.

It means inside a room of 30 kids, there are two students potentially that are positioned to feel successful.

The NSW Mathematics Strategy has several initiatives under way including professional learning and coaching support for teachers to try change the mindset and messaging around mathematics.

Ms Tregoning said recent research published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics showed that conceptual understanding was an important element of a student’s learning and understanding of maths.

“What we need to be doing is building kids’ capacity for conceptual thinking and understanding,” she said.

“The reasons for that is because when I have conceptual understanding my knowledge and my awareness is much more robust.

“When we can build concepts, what we are actually doing for kids is changing their brains, we are supporting the development of schema theory and the connection of ideas.”

Building conceptual understanding involved using a framework from Tom Lowrie at the University of Canberra to create experiences for students to see mathematics at play.

“We start to play around with different ways of representing and exploring these ideas by mathematical modelling in various representational competencies,” Ms Tregoning said.

Embracing cognitive challenge and student engagement with maths was another hurdle with the concept of a “sweaty brain” used in describing to students how they should feel about their learning.

“When you are out for a run, you start sweating, and what we want our brains to feel like is that they are out for a run,” Ms Tregoning explained.

“Or we would say things like: ‘Today what we are doing is really practising and cementing these skills and understanding, we want you to feel like you are out for a walk but not sprinting uphill’.

“We found it was really powerful in talking to the students about how challenging they were finding something and where we had wanted or intended them to sit.

“We really work with our teachers and students around how important it is to embrace the sweaty brain because that means we are learning today and that is what we are here for, we are in the business of learning.”

Speaking about the new Everyday Maths Hub, Ms Tregoning explained that mathematics was everywhere in everyday life and we could not function without it.

“Mathematics empowers and underpins us no matter what we want to do or where we want to be,” she said.

“We can talk about mathematics when we are hanging the clothes out on the line or when we are preparing lunches in the morning.

“It is everywhere and it is incredibly beautiful and creative.”

Listen to the full episode now:

NSW Department of Education

This story was written by the NSW Department of Education. School News shares it with permission.

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