There’s No Maths Problem Quite Like Student Engagement, So Let’s Try & Solve It

Perhaps more than ever before, mathematics is an interdisciplinary subject.

We are seeing a digital evolution manifest across all industries and with that, maths education also needs to evolve. Senior research fellos Max Planch, from the Institute for the History of Science, penned an essay for The Conversation in March explaining how the study of history is being "revolutionised" by mathematics in the form of something he calls "the digital humanities". Compiling, visualising and analysing different forms of data has become a critical part of the job for many people across all sectors, in 2018. Using Planck's focus on the humanities as an example, he noted: "Historians now have to get their heads around mathematics, too. While a database is never much more than an expression of arithmetic or linear algebra, the increasing amount of available data is calling for a more sophisticated approach."

Whether today's students enter tomorrow's workforce in retail, media, academia, medicine, the arts business, or a trade, they will need solid mathematical skills. Yet, according to the latest PISA results, mathematics  performance in Australian 15-year-olds declined between 2006 and 2015. If maths is going to continue its trending rise in relevancy, this is a worrying result, For teachers, it presents the task at hand: how to increase maths performance and engage students in mathematics who may favour other subjects. 

'When am I ever going to use this in real life?' is a question teachers may commonly receive from students who 'don't like maths.' However, this question no longer makes sense in our social-media centred, data-driven society. 

To brainstorm some solutions to this critical issue, School News spoke to some of the minds behind maths programs taught here in Australia. 


Maths Australia's national program manager Esther White told School News how she believes teachers can combat a student's 'I don't like math' attitude in the classroom...When maths is taught in the way students can truly understand, it builds the student's self- confidence and therefore their tendency to want to engage in maths. 

Mathematics mastery can be taught to students by applying evidence-based practices, such as the CRA methodology. This takes maths from a multi-sensory, hands-on, application to an abstract, written, application that eliminates a traditional textbook or didactic approach to maths education! But that's not all. 

Teaching maths with a hands on application alone will not fully eliminate Australia's declining numeracy performance. Study after study recommends the effectiveness of explicit instruction, essential for maths mastery. Explicit instruction, systematic progress, cumulative review, hands on manipulatives, assessment, early focus on whole numbers, strong verbalisation, word problem solving and fact fluency are all crucial. 

Students struggling in maths will show signs of discomfort and lack of interest when they are feeling overwhelmed. Students will show signs of confidence, engagement and enthusiasm when they are being taught in the way they learn. 

When maths is taught in the way students can truly understand, it builds the student's self- confidence and therefore their tendency to want to engage in maths. 

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The positive impact of having classrooms teach using all of the recommended methods cited by research as essential for teaching students in the way they learn, means that students are able to do the following:

  • Develop a deep and secure knowledge of maths concepts, including solid recognition about how maths is applicable in everyday life. 
  • Demonstrate their understanding by teaching it back. 
  • Develop a positive attitude towards maths and become more likely to elect for maths education in university or industry-specific careers. 

Conclusively we see that recommendations from research are simple to implement when each component is considered and when we teach maths with a focus on the concrete. It is our responsibility to ensure that we implement this research and follow evidence based recommendations to give every student the opportunity to master, and enjoy maths at an early age; to ensure they have the foundations and confidence for their later years of education."

-by Rosie Clarke, Industry Reporter

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