National Curriculum in Mathematics

The National Curriculum Board has just initiated its public consultation period for its draft proposed curriculum on mathematics (concurrently with similar consultations on science, history, and English), as reported on recently in the Australian, the Courier-Mail, the Age, and elsewhere.  The draft, which is to be implemented in 2011, draws upon the National Declaration of Educational Goals for Young Australians, the National Numeracy Review discussed earlier on this blog, as well as the report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel from the US.  Proposals include making maths a compulsory topic all the way to Year 12 (but offering a range of levels to take maths after Year 10), to encourage the use of computers and other digital technologies, to teach numeracy skills concurrently with more traditional mathematical topics, and avoid repetition or low-level activities that do not stimulate thought or inquiry.  On the other hand, the draft also notes the need to keep the curriculum simple and streamlined, with the key themes and topics being made clear to both teachers and students, and to avoid alienating a significant number of students with complexity; one can err by being too ambitious as well as by not being ambitious enough.

The consultation period ends at the end of Term 4 (which, I assume, means mid-December).

National Numeracy Review

The Australian is reporting today that the National Numeracy Review, commissioned two years ago by the Council of Australian Governments, has finished its final report (a background paper to the review can be found here, and a discussion paper with terms of reference can be found here.  Here is AMSI’s submission to the review).  The report raises concerns that the minimum standards for maths and numeracy skills at the primary and high school levels are too low, and recommends that teachers devote more time to these topics than is currently required.

The Australian is also running a statement by the education minister, Julia Gillard, on the importance of increasing achievement levels in literacy and numeracy, as well as a dissenting opinion by Kevin Donnelly, who warns of the dangers of forcing teachers who are inexperienced with mathematics into teaching more maths and numeracy skills to students.

Coincidentally, a similar report has been released in the U.S. by the National Council on Teacher Quality, entitled “No common denominator: The Preparation of Elementary Teachers in Mathematics by America’s Education Schools“.  (See also a recent recommendations on maths education by the U.S. National Mathematics Advisory Panel.)

[Update, July 16: additional links added; thanks to Jan Thomas for the references.]

ICE-EM mathematics textbooks review

The International Centre of Excellence for Education in Mathematics (ICE-EM) has recently completed a full set of mathematics textbooks and related teaching resources (homework sheets, CD-ROMs, etc.), entitled “ICE-EM Mathematics“, that covers the transition period between primary and secondary education in Australia (or more precisely, from Upper Primary to Year 10). This package has been designed by professional mathematicians (including my former undergraduate advisor, Garth Gaudry) in collaboration with experienced teachers in primary and secondary mathematics, and in accordance with Australian state and territory maths curriculum requirements. Some more information about this package, including sample chapters and homework sheets, can be found here.

Recently, I was given a copy of the textbooks (there are six two-volume books in all, one for each year of schooling) to review for ICE-EM. The entire package spans about 5,000 pages in 12 volumes; my review focuses on three representative volumes, Transition 1A (that covers the first half of Year 5), Secondary 2B (that covers the second half of Year 8), and Secondary 4B (that covers the last half of Year 10).

Disclaimer: Of course, I am reviewing these books not as a primary or secondary school educator, but instead as a professional academic mathematician and tertiary mathematics educator. Nevertheless, in my experience with students at the tertiary level, I have certainly seen how any gaps or deficiencies in primary or secondary maths education can show up to cause significant conceptual difficulties at the tertiary level, and it is with this perspective that I am approaching my review of these texts.

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