The eight year spread of a traditional Year 7 class
Supporting talented students to excel
The Head of Maths at Redcliffe State High School was constantly disappointed to find that year after year, the school’s top maths students would ‘hit a wall with their progress’ and drop to a less challenging maths course: ‘Something wasn’t working.’
The loss of capable and keen maths students to non-STEM related courses doesn’t get much media attention. But it is an important contributor to the overall decline19 of Australian students studying senior mathematics at high school20 and University21. The current focus on broad skilling and high ATARs is contributing to the low engagement seen in maths subjects22.
The average Year 7 class has an eight year spread of ability23, ranging from students who struggle to count to students who have a deep mathematical understanding and often lack challenge from aged-based content.
This wide range of levels creates an extremely challenging situation in the classroom. Despite teachers’ best efforts, struggling students will not get the support they need to progress and the most advanced students won’t be extended in their learning. As teacher Rose Nahilland told us, ‘Having taught Year 8 maths for the past three years, I often felt that students at the top end were not being pushed to see how far they could go or improve.’
Maths Pathway enables teachers to personalise the learning experience for every student in the classroom. Students access the content they are ready for based on data pinpointing their precise learning needs.
Teachers support their learning through targeted instruction and Rich Learning, challenging high achieving students to excel while supporting students at and below the level to continuously grow. As Jacqueline Lee at Emerald Secondary College explains, ‘We still need to be pushing top-level kids and not allow them to assume they’re always going to get 99% on something. These types of students often give up when they get to Advanced Maths courses because they’re used to things being easy straight away. Maths Pathway students learn to be pushed all the way through.’
Anecdotal data about increased enrolments in Advanced Maths courses suggests the model is working. At Lavalla Catholic College, teachers report a 25% increase in enrolments in Maths Methods among students who’ve been using Maths Pathway since Year 7. Their NAPLAN results have also improved, with students beating the state average.
Galen College reported an increase in demand for both the Year 10 preparatory program and Year 11 Maths Methods classes, while the demand for basic numeracy classes has halved. Maths Pathway has also allowed Galen College to advance Year 9 and 10 extension students to senior mathematics while keeping them with their year-level cohort. This ensured that critical relationships and experiences weren’t disrupted, something that had proved to be impossible with traditional acceleration classes. At Brighton Secondary College, 41 students are more than six months ahead of their expected year-level. Before implementing our model in 2015, only five students were in this group — a remarkable improvement.
19. Hine, G 2018, ‘Teachers’ perceptions on declining student enrolments in Australian senior secondary mathematics courses’, Issues in Educational Research, vol. 28, no. 3, pp. 635-654, <http://www.iier.org.au/iier28/hine.pdf>
20. Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute 2019, Year 12 Mathematics Particpation in Australia 2008-2017, Australian Mathematical Scienes Institute,<http://www.amsi.org.au/index.php/component/content/article/78-education/123-updated-year-12-mathematics-figures>
21. Nicholas, J, Poladian, L, Mack, J & Wilson, R 2015, ‘Mathematics preparation for university: entry, pathways and impact on performance in first year science and mathematics subjects’ International Journal of Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education, vol. 23, no. 1, pp. 37-51.
22. Watson, L 2018, Mathematics specialisation a win for students and industry, <https://amsi.org.au/2018/11/23/mathematics-specialisation-a-win-for-students-and-industry/>