Where Is Maths?

June 24, 2021
By
Liz Dare
Anthony De Silva

WHERE IS MATHS?

Case Study: Term 3 

School: Governor Stirling Senior High School 

Teacher: Anthony de Silva

Year Group:

Creative Practitioner: Liz Dare

Creative Practice: Social Innovation

Main Curriculum Focus: Math – Maths Measurement & Statistics ... Where is Maths?

Cross-curricular Links – Science, HASS, Personal, Social and Community Health, Technologies, Sustainability. 

Science – enquiry skills, questioning and predicting, planning and coordinating, processing and analysing data and information and communicating. Application of scientific inquiry methods in statistics. 

Humanities and Social Sciences – Questioning and research, analysing, constructing questions, communicating and reflecting. Practice at forming questions, data collection and collation strategies, and representing data. Economics and Business, lemonade enterprise activity to determine cost of goods, pricing and sales approach.

Personal, Social & Community Health – Experience of situations where students can apply coping skills, communication skills and problem-solving strategies. Communicating and interacting for health and well being. Opportunities to listen and communicate respectfully in circle. 

Technologies – Define and break down a given task, identifying the purpose Design, develop, review and communicate design ideas, plans and processes within a given context, using a range of techniques, appropriate technical terms and technology. Consider components/resources to develop solutions, identifying constraints. Repurposing materials to design creatively in groups to create prototypes. 

Sustainability – Re-use of materials saved from landfill for improvising design strategies. 


WHAT WE DID 

To support the alignment of the Creative Schools program with the Governor Stirling mathematics curriculum, our program focused on bringing practical activities into the classroom that would engage the students to experience a more socially interactive and embodied way of practicing maths. The teacher observed that many students have trouble applying their maths skills from the classroom to everyday use, and given maths is applicable in so many aspects of learning and life, we were keen to open their minds to a more divergent experience and application of maths skills.

“Usually we sit down and write what the teacher says. Creative Schools is more active in the classroom.” - Student

There were also a number of areas we wanted to focus on, supporting the students and the teacher to experience in a creative way to grow a more highly functioning classroom. These were: Role of the teacher (from guided to challenging); Nature of the Activities (from contrived to authentic); Approach of Tasks (from individual to group); Role of Learner from directed to self-managing.

“It is good for them, we usually go through stuff so quickly. It is good for them to consolidate their learning, to just focus on one concept and learn it deeply. The students like the unstructured nature of these lessons. They get to think of things themselves a bit more. The lateral thinking aspect is developed. They are learning in a different way. It is unfair to just assess them on mathematics, because they are learning much more. We've made huge leaps in their Habits of Creativity and collaboration over the past few weeks. They have really come a long way with them.” - Teacher


Each session included a warm up activity, main activity and a reflection. Although the Five Habits of Learning were integrated into the sessions, it became apparent early in the program that collaboration was an important focus area. Many of the students didn’t know each other and felt uncomfortable or “awkward” working in groups that weren’t self selected based on the comfort of friendships. 

“Creative Schools is different from what we normally do in school. It’s collaborative. We usually sit in rows and work on our own. You get to work with lots of different people in Creative Schools.” - Student

We opened each session with the students in a circle formation, and it became apparent within the first 2 weeks of warm up games that students did not know those in the class other than their friends. As a whole, they were initially uncomfortable in the circle formation, which encourages a more connected and open mindset, and the tension of being among their peers was exhibited in a variety of ways, from quiet reserved body language through to over boisterous performance type behaviour. Each week they became more familiar with the room's new configuration of tables around the edge and the chairs in a circle in the middle. By the end of the term the students entered the room feeling familiar with the formation, and participated more comfortably in the warm up activities that gave them the opportunity to move and interact in a way that allowed them to shift some of the tension in their bodies. For the self-directed paired or group activities the tables were arranged in clusters around the outside of the room.

“It’s interesting because it’s different. There are different activities and people have different reactions.” - Student


HOW WE MADE THE CURRICULUM COME ALIVE 

At the beginning of the term, the main activity was based on the question “Where is Maths?” This question was designed to open the students perception of their learning beyond subjects or learning topics. We began this experience outdoors to awaken their observation skills beyond the classroom, where they discovered that maths is everywhere - in the wind speed, the movement of the kayaks they observed on the river, in the clouds moving, patterns of the plants and flowers and the built environment. They began to see that maths was everywhere after they identified a long list of places where they had observed maths. 

“I’m learning how to work properly and how to make it more fun. We are learning about the habits and different ways of learning.” - Student


To follow on from this, we used everyday items for estimation and measurement. Students were encouraged to support each other in groups as they applied their maths skills to measuring these everyday objects. For the next 6 weeks the students engaged in creative exploration, investigation, representation and interpretation as they explored statistics topics around the question 'What do we know about our class?' In the exploration phase they developed a series of questions designed to get to know their class better; their likes and dislikes, the football teams they supported, the way they listened to music, the number of pets they had, the food they liked etc. They went on to use waste materials (collected by REmida) to design a way to collect data from the members of their class. They were challenged to improvise with materials many of them had never handled before and use their inquisitiveness and imagination to come up with creative ways of using what their group was given to work with. 

“You get to work with people who you might not usually get grouped with.” - Student


HOW WE MADE THE CREATIVE HABITS OF MIND COME ALIVE 

We brought the Creative Habits of Mind alive in a variety of ways. In the beginning we explored the Five Creative Habits in the opening circle, then integrated them into the warm up activities and the reflection. The most receptive was through personal storytelling and a warm up that enabled students to reflect on qualities required for certain occupations. At the end of each session we collected data around which habit or habits each person felt they had used in the session. This was designed to have a two fold application, one was for us to measure students' awareness of using the habits in the session. Secondly, was a term long example of data collection, representation and interpretation. However, part way through the term, one of the students messed with the collection station making the results invalid. This became a significant learning point around the effectiveness of data, how unexpected results can give information about the validity of the collection technique - an interesting cross curricular learning experience with scientific methodology. 

“We were imaginative when we had to think about how we represent our data, what it would look like.” - Student


HOW WE ACTIVATED STUDENT VOICE AND LEARNER AGENCY

We activated student voice and agency by seeking input into the areas of interest that students would like to explore. Initially, the hope was that there would be more whole-group participation in the opening circle to generate ideas from the students. However, given it was evident the students didn't know each other well, it was important that we went with a smaller group and individual approaches to listening to students and developing their agency. To do this, we formed groups to consider their areas of interest in the class. To help them organise themselves around roles and responsibilities, they were given guidelines about how to be a group host and the group scribe. The host role is an intentional deviation from the term leader to get them thinking more about how to work collaboratively than in an authoritative way. 

“We worked together to figure out what we needed to do and how to do it.” - Student


Each group was then asked to prioritise their ideas on sticky notes that were posted on the whiteboard for everyone to read. These were then used to generate the questions that students used in their data collection project. At the end of  term 3, students were asked to reflect on the term and consider what they believed would encourage more full and respectful participation, given a small number of students had not fully embraced the shift from the learner, being directed to self-managed. 

Feedback showed that students were interested in: More movement, more activities outside, and making maths games, as well as wanting to feel more comfortable with their classmates and for all students to be more respectful of each other and the space. This feedback formed the foundation of the plan for term 4 which included the students working in small groups to make a board game to practice algebra, more movement in warm ups and more opportunities to work outside. 


WHAT WAS THE IMPACT?

By the end of term 3 we could see from the way the students were responding in their reflections that they were becoming more aware of the Creative Habits of Learning and how they are applying them. We noticed the group getting to know each other better, self-awareness showing up in their reflections and confidence among the quieter ones to participate more. At the end of term 4 the students were asked to work in small groups to create a script to describe an assigned activity or project covered in the 17 week program, and present it on audio or video. Their improved capacity to organise themselves, and take action to complete this task in a short 55 minute lesson was a testament to their improved use of all the Habits of Learning, especially discipline and collaboration.

 “We were imaginative when me and my group thought outside the box to come up with ideas of ways to answer the questions” - Student


As a Creative Practitioner, my learning has occurred at a number of levels. Most significantly, my understanding and empathy for the challenges that teachers face has deepened through this experience. I gained insights into the relational value of listening and asking questions, and from observing the systemic issues that impact on a teacher’s capacity to creatively implement the curriculum. I appreciate the commitment required to persist and develop the discipline for creative bravery. I also discovered that students appreciate me showing up authentically and using personal stories to connect, and they need time to speak up with their peers and that starting in small group learning pods helps them grow their sense of agency. 

“My personal highlight has been watching our participating teachers grow and flourish. The teachers involved were able to take the Creative Learning journey as the students did, inquiring, challenging, things went wrong, but ultimately when they let go of their preconceived expectations and allowed the journey to dictate the path, problem-solving, experimenting and exploring possibilities.” - Lizzie Phillips (Creative Schools Coordinator)


I also learnt that many students this age have default behaviour to not like something before they’ve even given it a go so my persistence and personal discipline needs to process this resistance, like water off a duck’s back (Anthony is so good at this). In terms of how I deliver and facilitate, I’ve discovered that using space in a different way requires repetition for the students to get used to, and to give everything a go, it’s the only way to know whether it will work, and at the same time, don’t assume that because something didn’t appear to work that it wasn’t having an impact on a number of students. 

“We were imaginative when me and my group thought outside the box to come up with ideas of ways to answer the questions” - Student


At the end of the Term 3 reflection and  planning session, the teacher shared that the most significant impact for him was having someone from outside the education system to share and explore ideas with, which helped to bring a new way of seeing things given that most teachers think in a similar way. He mentioned that at the parent night, some of the parents said their children were enjoying the program. He also observed that students who typically sat around the C and high D grades were able to demonstrate improvement through their in class assessments. These students achieved their best results in Term 3 assessments compared to any previous assessment in Terms 1 and 2. 

“The school leadership took a similar journey, resulting in some important conversations and decisions namely, the discussions around integrating Creative Learning as a whole school concept and seeing it as a way to support the school improvement plans.” - Lizzie Phillips (Creative Schools Coordinator)


By the end of the program the teacher shared his improved confidence to try new ways of delivering the curriculum, by using more reflections with the students and to try more inquiry-based term-long projects that integrate a number of maths units. This shift came about by observing students: Learning how to think for themselves more, being more reflective and improvements in their capacity to learn how to be learners that can work with freedom. 

At the end of the project the teacher shared this reflection with his head of department:

“It feels like I have just completed 16 weeks of professional development. Participating has been beneficial for my whole teaching practice. It has triggered a mind shift for myself to look at how I teach and engage students.” - Teacher