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Maths and the NZC at St Hilda's Collegiate

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In this video Anna Cox, head of mathematics at St Hilda's Collegiate, discusses the curriculum review she led with her department.


Well when I looked at the New Zealand Curriculum document, the revised curriculum, I saw that it wasn’t just about pages of examples of how to deliver maths, it was the whole curriculum put together; and that the key competencies were common to all subjects; and it was our responsibility to make sure that students were working towards mastering and developing their skills in these areas. So, that was a starting point - the way in which we’re teaching.

But the other key thing was looking at the mathematics section, and seeing that algebra and number were lumped together and they were the major driving force and they basically had to be there all the time, every day. And that the other content areas were the context or the ideas that we hung the number and algebra off and around. Putting it all together we introduced the curriculum level five being delivered across two years (which was a major change) and a break away from other schools’ approach of term one: number, term two: algebra, to having three week bite size units of work, so that we could develop an idea and then move on. And what we needed to come back to did get repeated but the students never felt that they were bogged down in a really long onerous topic.

The competencies of thinking and of language, symbols, and the rest were most important and pinned to every single unit. But further ones like relating to others or managing self we assigned one extra of those remainders to each unit. So they’d be revisited several times over the year in each of these three week units. But that meant in this unit if relating to others was very important then some learning activities and a key activity we could use for formative assessment were pinned as common tasks for that unit.

First of all it took about six months thinking in the back of my head how I was going to do all of this. And once I had an idea, I plotted out a draft and a sample unit and a draft plan for the department. And then we worked together to look at where we’re heading, discuss having a shared vision for this and take on board all the ideas that everyone in the department had to bring - because we’ve got a wealth of experience and a range of different teaching strategies within the department and I needed to make sure everyone felt comfortable.

The main thing that the mathematics teachers were worried about was were we going to teach this or that? And their pet topics, be they fractions or linear graphs or whatever, weren’t to be neglected. So I had to look at showing a breakdown of the content based achievement objectives and show that absolutely everything was covered over the two years. And actually the biggest stumbling block for some people was that we would cover it over two years. And things that we deemed important enough that students had to revisit to really gain the understanding were visited twice. Or in the case of most of number and algebra, several times. And once people had that idea on board then we could start looking at the most appropriate order.

So the benefits for teachers has been the collegiality of sharing ideas and knowing that the ideas that you might have, that have worked well in your class, are of interest to everyone and that’s been very positive for many. And that shared professional development within the school has been really valuable.

Well the benefits for students is that we deliver units of work in a block that’s similar to their attention span of three weeks. After three weeks they’ve learnt something new, they’ve been extended in different ways and they feel proud of their achievement. And they’re actually ready to go tick and move on.

I would suggest to other secondary middle leaders if they’re wanting to make such changes that they would first of all think through all of the reasons for change. Taking on board data that they’ve gathered from previous years, to see if there is such a need for change. And also, so they’ve got the comparison to see if the changes have been effective because review needs to take place. But before they even consider the design of where they’re heading, take the time to think and make sure they’re not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. What works well? Make sure that’s taken onboard and kept in place. What they’re not so happy with and what the students may not be responding so well to, and make sure changes are made so that things are improved.

Published on: 13 Jul 2011