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Talking point

Real-world approach makes maths teaching deadly

09 May 2013

A real-world approach to teaching mathematics developed within the Faculty of Education at the Queensland University of Queensland (QUT) is reaping classroom results. YuMi Deadly Centre lead researcher Dr Bron Ewing explains.

Real-world approach makes maths teaching deadly

Numbers game... Kingston State School students, from left, Connor, Tewai, Paige, Koby, Georgia, Charity, Kym and Emmanual get to grips with maths in the real world. Photo: Erika Fish

A QUT education program is taking maths learning beyond the classroom, incorporating engaging and hands-on experiences that are improving students' sustained participation in numeracy education.

The YuMi Deadly Maths (YDM) program is designed for Indigenous and low socio-economic students and works by connecting maths to real world contexts, making it more relevant and understandable to students through sensory experiences using the body, hands and mind.

The program uses informal and formal items and eventful experiences to attract and launch students into learning about maths in ways that knowledge and understandings are transferable and connected to other topics, subjects and their lives.

Since 2010, the YDM program has been successful in more than 100 Education Queensland schools and 12 Victorian schools, empowering teachers to go beyond their initial teacher and professional development training and take control of planning and designing sequences of mathematics lessons, and explicitly demonstrating the evidence of these processes.

For example, students are learning about angles through the execution of a 360 degree turn on a skateboard; learning about the circumference of a circle using a cylinder and rolling it out once along a table then seeing how many times the diameter of the cylinder fits into the marked roll line. Using an ancient Egyptian method of a rope tied with 12 evenly spaced knots to find a square, students are learning about Pythagorean Theorem and what the Egyptians did when they built the pyramids.

Teachers are teaching maths in ways that make connections with students' real-life experiences and are achieving success. The success is brought about by several important elements including: an intensive professional learning and development program for principals and teachers; schools securing funding to implement the program, thus developing strong ownership and valuing of the program; and the development of professional learning teams.

The interconnectedness of training principals and teachers, securing funding and developing professional learning teams has been found to have a positive influence on teacher efficacy, student efficacy and professional collaboration.

Teachers are drawing on a pedagogic approach of reality, abstraction, mathematics and reflection (Matthews 2008). The intention is to support teachers with the teaching of mathematics, and then, the learning of their students. The focus is on how teachers and students produce their realities of mathematics in everyday life. It is a process of co-construction.

Abstraction refers to some kind of lasting change, that is, the result of abstracting enables the learner to recognise and represent new mathematical experiences as having the similarities of an already formed experience (White & Mitchelmore 2002; Matthews 2008).

This process also allows teachers and students to engage in deliberate reflective analysis to try and understand what has been taught and learned and identify the extent that reality is better understood.

Students find this process more engaging and are more attracted, attentive and motivated as a result.

By taking them out of the classroom and teaching them to do things such as how to make a clinometer to measure the heights of trees, bridges and flagpoles, and then relating the maths concepts to this experience, they are learning the mathematics knowledge and skills they need and also understanding better the contexts that they see each day.

The program has been so successful that three Queensland schools, Kingston State School, Marsden State School, Vincent State School, and Sunshine Harvester State School in Victoria, are now YuMi Deadly Maths Centres for Excellence.

These schools have demonstrated through evidence-based data how they have implemented and sustained the program for the longer term thus adopting a whole school approach with the program.

The Centres for Excellence (Qld) program is supported by the Division of Indigenous Education and Training Futures within the Department of Education, Training and Employment. The YuMi Deadly Centre is supporting Sunshine Harvester State School in Victoria, a state where 12 schools have implemented the program with great success over the past 18 months.