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My professional learning – the algebra project at St Hilda's Collegiate

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Anna Cox, head of mathematics at St Hilda's Collegiate in Dunedin, talks about her involvement in a Teaching and Learning Research Initiative (TLRI) – The algebra project. Anna believes it is important for teachers to think about why they do things, how students learn, and how to overcome the barriers to learning. In this talk Anna describes how being involved in the TLRI had benefits for her role as a leader of professional development in her department.


Along with two other members of my department, I’m involved in a TLRI project called ‘The algebra project’. And as much as I absolutely love it and I’m gaining so much from it, it was not my idea to sign up. I arrived into the job; the previous HoD had expressed an interest and when the funding came through two years later I found myself signed up for two years of hard labour. But it’s been the most valuable professional development.

I have been involved in something similar in physics about ten years ago and I think it’s really important for teachers to think about why we do things, how students are learning, what barriers to learning there are for different types of students - and how we overcome this.

Being part of ‘the algebra project’ has ensured that I'm thinking about how students are learning. But also how teachers are delivering the curriculum and meeting the needs of all the learners that make up their class. And we've had some really valuable discussions in the department that have sprung from our TLRI workshops and meetings. Thinking about the activities we use, the language and the rigour that we use with our note work, board work, and examples with the students - how those all impact on their learning. So it's actually been really valuable professional development for the whole department.

We’re sharing our learning across the schools involved in the TLRI. I'm also the facilitator for two courses for teachers' college (section of the university) and I share with my student teachers the strategies that we're learning. But I think most valuable is the fact that we share what we're doing with the students in our classes. We discuss what works well for them in delivering the algebra strand of the curriculum and making sure that they can understand the concepts and gain mastery of the processes. And they give us valuable feedback so those conversations are really worthwhile.

Well my advice would be to take on board things that really interest you or that you really see that there's a need to address in your school. And I took on algebra because I think that that's a really, really important part, basis of the mathematics that we build on through the senior school but that was actually the weakest area of the student ownership of their maths and what they were really confident in using. So it was an area of need and also it’s an area of interest. You’ve got to give up a lot of your own time to be involved in a research group and you’ve also got to be willing to experiment and try. So it’s got to be some area you think needs some work.

Published on: 17 Jan 2012