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Help needed for teachers to boost maths engagement

La Trobe University researchers have developed a new model for research designed to remedy poor student engagement with maths

A recent study by La Trobe researcher Dr Steve Murphy argues the teacher, although only one person within a complex classroom community, has an important role in making decisions that impact the learning environment and ultimately, how well students engage with maths.

“More than the architect of what happens in the class, the relationship between the teacher and the community of students, as well as the individual students is crucial in effective mathematics teaching,” the study says.

In the 2022 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) only 51% of Australian students achieved the National Proficient Standard, and only 12% performed at a high level in mathematics.

Murphy’s review of thousands of existing research papers on classroom practices related to maths found few contained detailed steps for teachers to improve both student engagement and results in maths.

“We need more research that investigates achievement and engagement together to give teachers good advice on how to engage students in mathematics and perform well,” Murphy says.

“La Trobe has developed a model for research that can achieve this.”

Some of the useful practices to boost maths engagement in the studies Murphy reviewed included:

  • Building relationships between participants in the classroom
  • Student-centred learning
  • Student-centred feedback
  • The use of gameplaying, problem-solving and challenge in classroom activities

Previous research led by Murphy found many parents were unfamiliar with the modern ways of teaching maths and lacked self-confidence to independently assist their children learning maths during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The implication for parents is that you don’t need to be a great mathematician to support your children in maths, you just need to be willing to learn a little about how schools teach maths today,” Murphy says.

“It’s not all bad news for educators and parents. Parents don’t need to teach maths; they just need to support what their children’s teacher is doing.”

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