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Australia’s students fall behind in Mathematics and Science

Found in: Leadership Blog

"Australia’s students fall behind in Mathematics and Science". Today’s news was full of this headline.

What about Mundaring Christian College students – where do they sit? Are they included in this national result?

Yesterday the results of the international Trends in Maths and Science Study (TIMSS) were released. The tests were undertaken by over 600 000 students sampled from across the world in 2014. Results indicated that the Mathematics and Science achievement of Australia’s students have ‘flat-lined’ – there has been no improvement since 1996 when the (4-yearly) testing program began. Other countries tested are improving and ‘passing’ Australia; they are leaving us for dead.

When it comes to Mathematics teaching and learning and Numeracy attainment, I am an expert. I don’t say this to ‘blow my own trumpet’ but rather to convince you that I know what I’m talking about.

The reason, I believe, for this poor result, is that students around the country are still being taught mathematics content rather than mathematics concepts. They are being taught that finding the ‘average’ is what you do when you ‘add numbers up and divide by how many there are’, rather than looking at a group of numbers and first estimating what number is central to all the numbers that can represent the group of numbers around it. They are being taught how to measure length with a ruler rather than to look at the object they want to know the length of and to estimate the length by looking at it and visualizing how many repeats of a standard unit it might be.

The rigour in this mathematics lies in knowing what they need to find out, estimating the result first, based on the understanding of the mathematics concept. Using the ‘method’ or ‘algorithm’ to find an answer requires very little understanding – just memory. Students need to read and understand contexts through comprehension, and make decision about what mathematics they’ve learned that they can use in these contexts, not just ‘do’ sums.

At Mundaring Christian College students are taught Mathematics and Science with a focus on deep learning and understanding, rather than memorization and rote. Rote learning of tables and Science facts is necessary for fluency but it’s not the focus of learning. Without deep understanding rote learning is nothing. Rote learning makes it ‘quick’ (as it needs to be) but that alone is insufficient. You don’t understand the concept of multiplication and when it might be used, by learning your tables and how to multiply.

In this century, Australia needs critical thinkers – people who can reason about their learning, not people who can regurgitate facts and methods which can be readily found on the web. All students in our college are taught that the goal of their learning is higher-order thinking and reasoning based on deep understandings. Aren’t you glad your children go to school here?

Dr Thelma Perso
Director of Teaching and Learning