Academic journal article Australian Mathematics Teacher

Challenges and Opportunities in Teaching Mathematics

Academic journal article Australian Mathematics Teacher

Challenges and Opportunities in Teaching Mathematics

Article excerpt

At the special conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers (AAMT), I was asked to speak about challenges and opportunities in teaching mathematics as a stimulus for discussion of AAMT's "future directions". With an open invitation to be a little provocative I chose the five challenges depicted in Figure 1. I have framed these challenges as questions to draw you into a conversation with your colleagues ... and, vicariously, with me. I end my brief discussion of each challenge with another kind of question that I hope will point us towards opportunities and directions for the next 50 years.

Who is qualified to teach mathematics to children and young people?

What does it mean to be "qualified" to teach mathematics? This is an important question because any profession is distinguished in part by a body of specialised knowledge, practices, and ethical orientations that new entrants to that profession are expected to acquire. More than ten years ago AAMT developed a set of professional standards that identified the knowledge, attributes, and practices required for excellent teaching of mathematics. For example, excellent teachers have "a thorough knowledge of the students they teach", "a sound, coherent knowledge of the mathematics appropriate to the student level they teach", and "rich knowledge of how students learn mathematics" (AAMT, 2006). This AAMT initiative showed tremendous foresight in making a case for professional teaching standards specific to the discipline of mathematics.

Now we have the more generic Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (AITSL, 2014), with the three domains of professional knowledge, professional engagement, and professional practice structured similarly to those proposed by the AAMT Standards. For example, in the Professional Knowledge domain, teachers are required to know students and how they learn, and know the content and how to teach it. University programs for initial teacher education are accredited, in part, on the basis of ensuring that our graduates satisfy these requirements.

However, initial teacher education in Australia is undergoing substantial reforms (see http: //www.aitsl.edu.au/initial-teacher-education/ite-reform). One of the new requirements is that all graduates of primary initial teacher education programs will not only be prepared to teach across the primary curriculum, but also have advanced knowledge and skills in one subject area. Priority for subject specialisation will be given to mathematics, science, and languages.

We might wonder whether it makes sense to say that a new graduate, however well prepared to teach primary school mathematics, could be regarded as having "advanced skills and knowledge" in mathematics and mathematics teaching.

What should be the role of a mathematics subject specialist in the primary school? How should new graduates take up such a role?

Another aspect of deciding who is qualified to teach mathematics is to consider the long standing under-supply of secondary school mathematics teachers with formal qualifications for this role. By this I mean teachers who have taken university courses in both mathematics and mathematics teaching methods to the extent required by program accreditation standards. (The current requirements can be found in AITSL, 2015). Depending on the source of data, it seems likely that at least 20% of lower secondary school mathematics classes are taught by teachers without formal qualifications as mathematics teachers (McKenzie et al., 2014).

This is not a new problem. And I can't see the situation changing in a country like Australia that is geographically large but with a small, dispersed population. So even if we achieve some success in recruiting more people into secondary mathematics teaching I think it's unlikely that every secondary school in the country will be fully staffed with "qualified" mathematics teachers. …

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