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Aligning the standards in mathematics at St Hilda's Collegiate

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Anna Cox, head of mathematics at St Hilda's Collegiate, describes how she worked with her department to align the standards in mathematics. The benefits were a greater emphasis on thinking and independent use of mathematics.


Well I think like most heads of mathematics department, particularly in this area where we met together to look at the proposed changes last year, we took a deep breath and thought, ‘My goodness, things are so different’. Instead of having a comfort zone for year 11 students being able to perform at levels four, five, six of the curriculum and get through with level one achievement standards we’re now really just looking at level six competencies. So when I looked back at the students we have here I thought, ‘Hmm, there’s a large group that are at risk of perhaps not gaining sufficient standards even over two years to gain what is needed for numeracy for level one, two, and even UE for NCEA.’

So I thought about the alternative pathways, and really in mathematics there is no alternative pathway into level two and beyond. So the changes need to happen right at level one. I had to think very carefully about how we were going to manage this and staff it wisely. In fact I’ve brought in a primary trained mathematics teacher for the numeracy programme because (this is the numeracy level one programme) because she had sympathy for students bringing their own hangups about maths and we have to move beyond that. They have their own interest that we have to peg their mathematics and their need for mathematics to, and so really the class has to operate on individual education programmes, as much as learning together. We went through common samples of work from all the students we consider to be at risk. We came up with a list of fifteen students that we were really concerned about. I contacted all of the parents and guardians and talked them through the issues about how their daughter was looking as if next year might be extremely difficult for her to meet the numeracy requirements under the new system - but that we have an alternative course that would actually just take her to level one in mathematics and we talked through the issues. We came away with twelve students enrolling in the numeracy class and the remainder of the students electing to work a lot harder because they'd been resting on their laurels somewhat.

I think the benefits are a greater emphasis on thinking and independent use of mathematics. In the previous system we were getting to the stage where we could train students to jump through hoops to achieve. Not so much for merit or excellence results in the senior school but to get through we were in fact training them up. Now they really have to think for themselves and actually use their mathematics and apply context and that's really exciting. The other thing was there was an artificial jump from level one standards which seemed to be a low level enough that the students thought, 'Oh there wasn't much effort needed,' and they could rest back and things would come easy to them. Then all of a sudden, level two just scared them witless because it was such a jump. I think now the jump won't be there because we've lifted their expectations and our expectations of them for level one.

For some teachers I know the challenges will be coping with the content. Because as we expect more of the students and more independent work from the students the teachers have to really understand and know their subject so well that they can problem solve on their feet and provide pathways for extension for students that say, 'What if?’ We really need the teachers to be prepared for any situation. I think my main role has actually been a mentor teacher to the rest of the department. We've seen that one form of communication, the weekly department meeting, hasn't been quite enough because issues or questions arise, sometimes within the hour several times, sometime daily, sometimes we're fine and confident coasting along for a week or two. So we've actually moved to having - this will sound extremely nerdy but it's really useful - having forum blog discussions by subject on our Mahara site at school that we can relay conversations amongst, for example, year 11 teachers, and we check online regularly enough and post up some great activities that we've always got resources or questions or answers at our fingertips. But we also meet regularly enough that we can discuss things live.

My advice is be brave about change because there's usually a positive reason for change as in the Ministry have looked at what hasn't been working well and looked at how to refine things so that they can be better. So don't question the change but just run with it because it's there, you've got to deliver. But be aware that a lot of your staff may be feeling intimidated or nervous about looking unsure in front of their class and support them in whatever way is necessary.

Published on: 10 Apr 2012