Maths Education

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Clark, who is head of the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Operations Research at Victoria University of Wellington, and her former PhD student Robin Averill are talking with secondary mathematics teachers and students from a range of schools and neighbourhoods about respectful behaviour in the classr
oom, and observing their interactions.

“There is clearly some miscommunication about it,” says Clark. “Some behaviours that teachers might think as respectful, students may see as patronising, for example. Some discussion of a student’s family life will be seen as intrusive and disrespectful by some students, who believe the teacher’s role is only within their subject, but by other students as an indication that the teacher has bothered to find out about the whole person.”

Clark is also working on better integration of senior secondary and early university maths education, with Professor Bill Barton at the University of Auckland, Professor Glenda Anthony from Massey University and Dr Alex James from Canterbury University. “Teams in Christchurch, Auckland, Palmerston North and Wellington will trial a programme designed by secondary and tertiary teachers in secondary schools that take part.”

Clark says senior secondary mathematics and tertiary teachers have been more collaborative than in some other subjects; “University staff have been members of the NZ Association of Mathematics Teachers for years and regularly speak at conferences. Putting their perspectives together should make a richer experience for students.”

In their exploration of the transition from high school to university mathematics courses as a rite of passage, she andCanadian colleague Miroslav Lovric have cast strong doubt on the worth of transition or bridging courses. “Students doing these courses do no better than students of the same background who didn’t do them, which questions the prevailing assumptions. People assume because it’s a nice thing to do, it’s a good thing to do. At some stage students have to become independent learners, and I think we prop them up for far too long.”

This is unpopular talk, but not unusual from someone who likes to examine assumptions “that are never questioned, yet are the basis of practice”.