You’d think the last two weeks of primary school would be spent in a weary tangle of paperchains while waiting for that final bell. But not so at Golden Square. Thanks to a group of volunteer La Trobe education students, the teachers here are seeing out the year immersed in maths.
“They’re excited,” said Golden Square Primary numeracy support teacher Merrill Harvey. “It’s the last two weeks of school and we’ve got more than three quarters of our staff coming along to a PD. About maths, after school.”
If addition and subtraction, multiplication and division usually fail to float your boat, you need only spend some time with these six La Trobe students. They’re passing on current best-practice methods of teaching that banish the myths around maths anxiety.
La Trobe Mathematics Education lecturer Tina Fitzpatrick said everyone can experience success in maths, they just need to be shown how. Tina’s classes are based around the psychology of growth mindset versus fixed mindset, and banishing the internal monologue that we are stuck with a limited ability to learn a certain topic.
“If people have had poor experiences with maths in their past, we feel it is our job to help break the negative cycle so our students can go forth and lead the way in maths education,” Tina said.
Case in point have been these two one-hour professional development sessions, developed and delivered by Tina’s maths converts, such as student Jillian Brierley.
“I was a D-grade maths student in high school,” Jillian said. “At the start of uni I went into Tina’s office after the first maths lesson and I cried. I said, ‘I can’t do this’. But we worked together and did lots of work outside class, which I’m so thankful for. I’ve got different strategies now to understand maths. It’s all conceptual and it uses materials I can work with.”
Jillian said she started university three years ago believing her strengths would lie in science and history, and was amazed to find herself teaching maths to qualified teachers this month. “I jumped at the opportunity to do this because I wanted to help others make the connections that I’ve made.”
Merrill Harvey first experienced Tina’s conceptual maths classes while working as a sessional tutor at La Trobe. She started introducing the method to her own primary students six months ago, with outstanding results. “I have seven-year-olds who say ‘Oh, that makes so much more sense than the old way’,” she said. “Maths is traditionally taught as a process. This is conceptual, right from the word go, so children have a deeper understanding of what they’re doing and it builds success and confidence.”
Merrill said December was certainly not a traditional time to engage teachers in professional development, but this was an opportunity not to be passed up.
“To find a PD of this quality is very difficult,” she said. “It’s absolutely timely for us and we’re very grateful. It’s a quality PD that you’d normally pay huge amounts to professionals to deliver. For third-year students to front a group of seasoned teachers, that’s a solid ask, and they’ve done a great job. If we could continue a relationship like this with La Trobe, we’re in.”
As well as Jillian, Tina’s team of volunteer students going the extra mile to pass on their new-found love of maths are Abby Hansen, Anthony Davies, Kayla Hore, Kylie Lindstrom and Emma North.
“It’s a great networking opportunity for them and it shows young people in an undergraduate course can really show some cutting edge teaching methods,” Tina said.