For many maths teachers, the number of students in the Year 12 Specialist Maths class can be an important indicator of the strength of their school’s maths program.
For Rebecca Johns from East Loddon P-12 College — a small school in Dingee, Victoria — having five students in Specialist Maths for the first time in five years was a huge achievement. These students started using the Maths Pathway program in Year 7, which played a huge part in their journey to achieving such high levels in maths, according to Rebecca.
“In Year 9 we had one student finish all of Maths Pathway up to level 11 and we had a group of students who are also above level 10 in Maths Pathway. So we could see that we needed to do something different in Year 10 for that group. And so we offered Unit 1 and 2 of Specialist to them at that stage to give them the VCE experience and work up to doing specialist. They did specialist in Year 10 and Methods in Year 11. And now they’re doing Specialist and Methods together in Year 12.”
“I think with the Maths Pathway approach they were much more willing to improve themselves for the VCE subject. To learn and get better each time, rather than just going on. The first couple of topics and tests they did were quite challenging. And that might have put a few people off, but they kept working at it to get better.”
“In previous years we may have had students that were capable of Specialist but didn’t choose to do it because they lacked confidence. Being able to show the students on Maths Pathway that they have completed the work required to do Specialist has now given them confidence.”
Over at The Lakes College, Acting Head of Faculty (Maths) Tim Huppatz, has similar thoughts on the impact Maths Pathway has on mindset, with some big differences between students who have used the model and those who haven’t.
“Our first cohort that we brought in (to Maths Pathway), back in 2019, when they were in Year 7 is now currently our Year 9 cohort. So our current year 10s have never experienced Maths Pathway, but the big difference I can see at the moment between our current Year 10 body and our Year 9 body especially is in the conversation around learning” explains Tim.
“The conversations for our Year 9s aren't necessarily around what they're capable of or what their choices are. They have certainty in what they can do. They know their effort levels. They know where they actually sit in terms of not just a mathematics mindset and frame, but also general study and learning habits capability and what they're actually capable of as a student, not just in their skill area in mathematics.”
“And for me, that's been impacted predominantly by the mindset and by the attitude around growth, especially in our junior space. This has really opened up the conversations a lot better in the senior space, and the way in which students are talking about Methods and Specialist now in Year 9, isn't with one of fear, which is what the Year 10s did, and even what the Year 11s did… They looked to those top level mathematics subjects in fear of the fact that they're so complex and they're too hard and they can't possibly do them. Whereas now the Year 9s are looking at it going, ‘No, no, I can do that. It just requires more work, and I am capable of said work.’”
Planning maths pathways
Our data shows that traditional ways of teaching maths will see an average of just 9% of students reaching or exceeding the expected curriculum standard for their year level. This means that by the time these students complete Year 10, the vast majority are underprepared to continue their studies in senior maths, pursue tertiary courses or further studies in related fields, or successfully enter the workforce.
What’s more concerning is that only 11% of students would reach a minimum of level 9 — the level of understanding needed for students to be fully numerate — by the end of their schooling.
At East Loddon, teachers and students are using Maths Pathway to plan projected pathways in junior years, so students know exactly what they need to achieve to reach their goal maths levels in Year 11 and 12.
“One thing I found really useful was at the end of the Year 9, I sat down with the students and we looked at their projected pathway. We looked at what growth rate they'd need to get to a certain level. And whether they're thinking about further maths, whether they're thinking about Methods, whether they're thinking about Specialist. So that helped to have that conversation, ‘This is something you have to start thinking about because you'll be making those decisions next year about which kind of maths you want to do.’ And so then I said, ‘This is what you'll be focusing on in Year 10. And if you want to do Methods, you probably want to focus on your algebra and trigonometry topics. Whereas if you're doing Further Maths, you might want to look at the statistics topics more.’ So we could help to give them a focus to build up their skills so that they're more prepared for the Year 11 subjects."
Rebecca also uses the Curriculum Grid in the Maths Pathway app to help students visualise any gaps that they have that might be preventing them from moving forward.
“There are some things where a student might be at level 10, but then they've got these little gaps that may be down at level five. So I’ll say, let's try and get that consistent and that will help give you a strong foundation. I feel like the kids are starting to be a lot more open to taking that on. I think originally they might've just wanted to keep doing the hardest modules. They could prove how smart they were, but now they're seeing the benefit of having a stronger foundation and a more balanced approach.”
“When we do the feedback interviews, students say, ‘Oh, I think I need a mini lesson on this one because I really didn't understand it.’ And they can see the benefit of doing it. That's been a huge thing for us.”
Learning habits lead to better outcomes
Planning out projected pathways with students is one thing, but in order to get there and achieve in their senior years of school students need strong learning habits. According to Tim, students using Maths Pathway have more opportunities to develop these habits early on setting them up for success in Year 11 and 12. Tim believes, Maths Pathway gives students a “sense of agency and autonomy early in their high school experience that lays the foundations for the very strong study habits and learning skills that they need to be effective and efficient students, especially in Year 12.”
“I've said it multiple times to people and students, if they only think, if they get to Year 11 having never prioritized their learning habits or figuring out themselves as students, it's almost too late for them, especially if they're doing high-level mathematics and the higher science subjects. Mindset, learning habits and foundational concepts are the key for junior mathematics. We want kids to have success so they can have a positive mindset, but we need students to understand themselves as learners so that by the time they get to Year 10 and Year 11, the change in situation and circumstances shouldn't be a problem.”
Rebecca agrees that learning habits can make a huge difference down the track.
“Part of our routines with the Maths Pathway is we get students to revise. Like we say, there's a lesson for revision and to go back over the modules and summarize it and make sure you feel confident with the skills and concepts. And we feel like that kind of routine was useful when they were in VCE and it's something that we keep trying to reinforce to the students and because it's important for VCE. And we feel like that has definitely helped the students in that respect. Just getting used to that process and gradually building up the complexity of what they're reviewing.”
A model for all students
When Maths Pathway was created, founders Richard and Justin set out to create a model that worked for all students because it met them where they happened to be in their learning journey. By giving teachers the tools they need to differentiate, students can learn what they’re ready for and experience growth at their level.
As Rebecca explains, “that was what we loved about Maths Pathway, the opportunity to differentiate regardless of what level they're at and being able to celebrate the growth too. Some of our lower level students are really working hard to catch up and having that growth mindset has really changed things.“
This focus on personalised learning is having an impact on students at all levels, something Rebecca is incredibly proud of at East Loddon.
“Two of our Year 11 students achieved a study score of 39, while one Year 12 student who started Maths Pathway in Year 8, achieved a study score of 40” said Rebecca.
“To have had (Maths Pathway) consistently for several years and to get those VCE results at the end shows that it's achievable. And being able to show them as examples to the youngest students to say, ‘Look, you're on track. if you do this, you can be doing what those older students are doing when you get there.’ So it doesn’t always have to be about those really highly academic students. It’s the ones who put the work in who can achieve as well.”
Add in high impact teaching strategies and a focus on growth, effort and work habits, and you’ll get students with a growth mindset who are independent learners. Better yet, independent learners who experience joy and success in maths. And that’s exactly what our model sets out to do.