Using what we now know to modernise primary maths instruction
This article is the first of a five-part series on using what we know to modernise primary maths instruction.
If you’re reading this, I suspect you learned maths the same way I did. That is, highly symbolic, void of much context and discussion between learners, and worse still, with a great focus on the procedures and skills rather than an understanding of the concepts.
Well, it worked for us so why change it, right? Wrong! In a nutshell, the role of the education system is to prepare our students to fit into society. Most of us had to spend many hours learning and practising those procedures because society at the time did not provide the technology to do the procedures for us. Today, however, computers and calculators can do computation much faster and more accurately than we can. And this technology is so readily available that it is often on our person or at least within easier reach than any paper and pencil. To make this point clear, I often say that most people I know will walk a long way to get a calculator before sitting down to use a long division algorithm.
Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that maths in Australia is still being taught the same way that you and I learned it. Essentially, society has moved on and the education “system” is still preparing students for yesteryear’s society.
Something has to change
Put simply, we should be looking to those countries that continually outperform Australia to see what they are doing right. And we should be drawing on solid research to shape our instruction in a way that we know works.
John Hattie’s (2017) groundbreaking research is a good place to start. He studied more than 70,000 education studies around the globe which gave him a sample in excess of 300 million students. In this study, he was able to determine and give a numerical value for the “effect” of one year of schooling. That value is four tenths (0.4). Put another way, after one year of schooling we would expect one year of growth and that effect size was measured at 0.4. Then he went about measuring the effect of other influences or actions. Essentially any “influence” that measured greater than 0.4 gave you a better return on your investment of time and/or money. As you would expect, there were some “influences” such as summer vacation that had a negative effect on growth. Its effect was measured at -0.02! Others had a more positive effect which gave you a great return on your investment.
While much can be drawn from the results of his study, there are four significant “influences or actions” which are well worth exploring in more detail. Not just because they score high in terms of effect size (proving that they do actually work), but because they are relatively easy to implement at minimum or no cost. In my opinion, these are the BIG four. These are the “influences or actions” that will make the biggest difference to instruction and therefore to student achievement in mathematics.
- Implement a “spaced” program of learning mathematical ideas over time
- Adopt a Piagetian approach to teaching mathematics concepts and skills
- Develop students’ mathematical language
- Foster discourse in the mathematics classroom
We will explore each of these influences in more detail in the next four articles in this series.
Click here to read the next article in this series.
Hattie, J., Fisher, D., Frey, N., Gojak, L.M., Moore, S.D., Mellman, W. (2017). Visible Learning for Mathematics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Click HERE to download a list of additional influences and their effect sizes!
About ORIGO Education
ORIGO Education is dedicated to making learning meaningful, enjoyable and accessible for all students and their teachers with Early Education and Primary print and digital instructional materials, as well as professional learning for mathematics.