For Australia to improve in maths, policymakers need to make a plan and stick to it

This article was written by Vincent Geiger

Australia is struggling to improve its performance in maths due to a lack of continuity in policymaking.

While Australia tends to plan in three-year cycles, the countries that are performing the best – or making significant improvements – in international rankings for maths, such as Singapore, Finland and Japan – tend to revise their maths curriculum every five to six years.

This allows teachers to become fully acquainted with new initiatives and provides time for the bedding down of any changes to previous practice. It also allows curriculum developers and system administrators to evaluate the effectiveness of innovations.

So what impact has a lack of continuity had on maths education in Australia?

Slipping standards in maths

The last two international tests revealed that Australia is failing to improve in maths education.

In the 2015 version of Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), Australia was 22nd in Year 4 maths, and 13th in Year 8 maths, a decline from 18th and 12th respectively in 2011.

In the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Australia was 18th in maths, down from 12th in 2012.

The results of these assessments indicate that the performance of Australian students is declining in both an absolute sense and in comparison to students from an increasing number of other nations.

The government and opposition have blamed each other for the situation, claiming the failure of respective policy direction and its implementation.

Impact of continuity in policy

It is hard to ignore the fact that there are nations that have made changes to their approach to maths education and made significant comparative progress.

In the case of Singapore, revision of the curriculum does not mean throwing out all aspects of previous practice and beginning again. Rather, it means a meticulous process of reviewing what has been effective and what needs to be improved or added to prepare students for the world they will move into – not just the world as it exists.

Curriculum is based on knowledge and practices that have served students well in the past, but is also future orientated.

This period of time also provides an opportunity for curriculum developers and system administrators to evaluate the effectiveness of innovations.

The approach to curriculum development is national, focused, carefully coordinated and then thoroughly evaluated.

In Australia, however, education is the responsibility of the respective states and territories. This poses a serious challenge for a coherent coordination of our curriculum development efforts.

Development of an Australian curriculum

The Australian Curriculum was heralded as a landmark in national cooperation in education.

Through the process of negotiation for its development and implementation, however, has emerged a determination by states and territories to preserve their differences and distinctiveness.

Some states have been accused of making superficial efforts to align with a national approach.

State efforts at curriculum development have a tendency to respond to whatever political pressure point is being stimulated at any time. For example, the most recent performance on NAPLAN results are prone to quick fix solutions.

Such flightiness brings into question how any long-term effective change brought about and rigorously evaluated.

Consequently, when looking at our national effort, it appears to be disjointed, unfocused, somewhat ad hoc in its development and close to impossible to evaluate in terms of student outcomes.

Introduction of teaching standards

Australia has created a number of measures to help improve its performance in maths. These include:

  • The introduction of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) national teaching standards, which include a requirement that all graduating teachers have the ability to promote students’ numeracy capabilities across the curriculum.
  • A numeracy (and literacy) tests for initial teacher education students to ensure graduating teachers have the necessary level of personal numeracy to be effective in classrooms.
  • National programs aimed at strengthening initial teacher education students’ mathematics and science knowledge, such as Enhancing Training of Mathematics and Science Teachers (ETMST).
  • Restoring the Focus on STEM in School Initiative, which aims to support the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects in primary and secondary schools.

These initiatives demonstrate the commitment of considerable federal resources for the purpose of enhancing the nation’s mathematical (and scientific) capabilities.

Taken as a suite, this list seems to represent a comprehensive approach to improving students’ mathematics outcomes – all aspects of curriculum, teacher pre-service education and teacher in-service education receive attention.

So why has this (what appears to be) well thought-out plan proved to be seemly ineffective?

Continuity of funding

Having been part of a number of federally-funded programs aimed at strengthening the teaching capabilities, I think it is fair to say that most have been successful in what they set out to achieve.

Programs such as the Enhancing Training of Mathematics and Science Teachers, for example, were carefully scoped out and then thoroughly monitored throughout their implementation. They are now undergoing stringent evaluation.

But no matter how successful, no program has any chance of securing additional funding. We appear to set agendas, allocate funds, complete projects and then move on to something new – unlike many successful countries that value continuity in their approach to teacher professional learning.

While project leaders will always have in place plans for the sustainability of the work begun through a program, the hard reality is that without further funding those involved will be expected to find new projects and income streams and move on.

The Conversation

Vincent Geiger, Associate Professor and Research Fellow, Australian Catholic University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Empowering students and lessons in giving constructive feedback

A guest post by Brooke Chaplan

**The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**

Students today more than ever before need to be empowered to go on to live effective, successful lives. It is important students of all ages have good examples of learning and education in their lives. They also need constructive feedback from teachers that can help them to mature as learners and as people. As a teacher, you are privileged to be able to give them both.


Begin with a Passion For Teaching

Your love for teaching will be the first thing students notice about you as a teacher. It doesn’t matter if you particularly like an individual subject you may have to teach, although that certainly helps. What students need to see in you is a passion for the art of teaching that will tell them that it is important for them to learn.

If you have a passion to teach, it will be translated to your students in thousands of non-verbal ways throughout your classes. They will see it in your eyes, in the invigorating way you talk about your subjects, and even in your tone of voice. The payback for translating your passion to your students will be that some of them will emulate your example and become teachers themselves. If you can demonstrate the best parts of learning it can inspire others to be lifelong learners themselves.

Personal Interest in Your Students Is Vitally Important

The teachers that make the most significant impression on students are those who take a personal interest in their lives. You may be teaching a very large class of students, where it is difficult to get to know each child individually. Nevertheless, in any class there are those students who stand out to you as either being very talented or very needy. You should invest the time to reach out to both of them, because they both need your help in different ways.

Exceptional students need to be spurred on to greater growth. Take college students aside and encourage them to perhaps pursue and online Master’s in higher education. Talk to younger middle school and elementary school students about honing their talents and finding what they are good at. Help them to find out how they can use their personal talents to pursue the career they were meant for.

Needy students can need a challenge for any number of reasons. You will need to take the time out of your schedule to find out why. Perhaps they have a troubling home situation, or may have cognitive challenges. Unfortunately, many students today have chemical addictions as well. Whatever the reason, attempt to help them and put them on the right path. Even a kind note on an essay can be a good personal notice for more shy students.

Share Your Constructive Criticism When Needed

Constructive criticism always has a positive edge to it. Though it may be initially perceived by the student as being negative, it is intended to correct for greater positive growth. It does not beat down or demoralize. In any class of students, it is sometimes needed.

Constructive criticism is something that should always be shared in private. Begin by telling the student the good things you see about him or her. This will get you started off on the right track. Then tell them what you think is holding them back, and how they can make a positive change. After this is done, reaffirm your confidence in them as an individual. If you share your concerns in the right way, it’s possible that the student will heed your advice. Learning from mistakes and error is one of the most important parts of teaching and learning.

Being a teacher is not an easy job, but the reward is that you are allowed to help students to reach their individual potential as human beings, and see them succeed. With positive feedback and constructive criticism you can help student succeed. It’s up to them as much as you to see where the future can take them.

Brooke Chaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most her time hiking, biking and gardening. For more information contact Brooke via Twitter @BrookeChaplan.

Getting the most out of student blogging assignments

**The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**

Guest Post by Elaine Hirsch

Examining Instructional Blogging Efforts and Lessons Learned.

As instructional blogging made its way into classrooms, student feedback has helped teachers structure methods to use blogs effectively, from elementary classrooms to online PhD programs. A mix of positive and negative feedback has helped illustrate how blogs are useful and how instructors can identify and improve upon challenges that might arise with their usage.

In his article, “Instructional Blogging: Promoting Interactivity, Student-Centered Learning, and Peer Input,” Stuart Glogoff relays student feedback after the use of instructional blogs in one of his classes. One student reported that reading about new subjects via the blogging format was enjoyable; she found that researching the topics to post on the class blog was helpful to her overall learning experience. The student, however, complained that, “the posts were few and far between.” She expressed further disappointment over the fact that none of her posts received comments, a complaint echoed amongst other students who took the survey

In order to make instructional blogging more effective, Glogoff gave blogging assignments that required each student to post entries and comment a certain number of times on the work of others. Afterward, students reported general increases in their sense of community. They also reported greater satisfaction with the overall blogging experience. Others said the entire blogging and peer-reviewing process not only helped them understand the course material but also provided a better avenue for helping each other learn through conversation.

Dr. John Freed, a professor at Brandman University, assigned students in his Communications 372 class the task of creating individual blogs accessible to all other participating students. Along with Dr. Freed, each student in the class subscribed to his or her classmates’ blogs. The class shared its ideas and participated in online discussions via the individual blogs. Students learned how to document and present their accomplishments, work electronically, and instantly place their achievements within a global context. In their end-of-term evaluations students reported the blogs did help them accomplish their course objectives.

According to Dr. Freed, many of his students expressed appreciation that the blogs not only helped them learn the class materials in a new way, but also they liked that the blogs made class materials more readily accessible. Some reported the blogs facilitated learning from one another, and helped them learn new electronic media skills that could be applied in other settings. The only negative feedback he received was from students previously inexperienced with blogging and who therefore had problems learning to navigate the interface, causing them to fall behind on their work.

In a study conducted by Michele D. Dickey of Miami University students who had participated in instructional blogging assignments reported a lessening sense of social isolation and an increase in social camaraderie. One student reported her interactions via blogging with other students in the class instilled the idea that she was part of a community composed of her classmates.

In the same study, one student revealed mixed feelings about assigned blogging. She reported feeling that the friendliness that took place during blog discussions wasn’t genuine. She also reported a sense of cronyism: other members of the blogging group had become exclusive friends and ignored her posts. As a result, she didn’t feel her attempts to start conversations were successful. She also expressed that the sense of community often expressed in the postings didn’t fairly represent the actual class, but instead represented the group dynamics of the online community.

Using blogging as an online educational workspace can expand the realm of learning beyond the physical constraints of the classroom. For many students, it provides a whole new method of learning. The crucial element for instructors is to listen carefully to how students express their experiences and to draw on this information to improve instructional blog use for future classes.

This post originally appeared on  the Emerging EdTech page, and was republished with permission.

Read all of our posts about EdTech and Innovation by clicking here. 


Elaine Hirsch is kind of a jack-of-all-interests, from education and history to medicine and videogames. This makes it difficult to choose just one life path, so she is currently working as a writer for various education-related sites and writing about all these things instead.

Teachers: 3 Quick, Simple Tips to Stay Insanely Productive Without Losing Steam

Teachers have strong commitments to their work. Most of them feel passionately about teaching, and see it as a “calling.” The emotions that teachers undergo include love for (most) students, hate for the paperwork, and the feeling of excitement when they see a student finally understand a concept. Then there’s the dread of filling out report cards, the feeling of burn-out in December, and the nervous feeling associated with the first day of school every year.

The intensity of the teaching profession and the chronic stress levels involved can lead to burnout. It usually means the inability to function fully in one’s job due to the prolonged stress related to these jobs. Stress and burnout are linked closely to an individual’s state of mind. Burnout is three-dimensional and includes feelings of emotional exhaustion or tiredness; teacher “depersonalization,” in which they develop a negative and distrustful attitude towards their students, parents, and their colleagues; and a reduced sense of accomplishment and self-esteem.

It also brings about other negative effects, such as increased absenteeism, decline in classroom performance, and poor interpersonal relationships with colleagues and students. Burned-out teachers are usually less sympathetic toward the problems of students, and are less committed to their jobs. They develop lower tolerance for classroom disruptions, are less prepared for class, and are generally less productive. As a result, burned-out teachers can have a negative influence on the morale of new teachers.

Here are some tips for teachers who want to be productive, be impactful—yet keep their health, alertness, and sanity.

  1. Make a list of all the tasks that you have been postponing for some time. Try and identify whether these tasks have something in common. Doing this will help you determine the specific kind of jobs that you tend to postpone. Is it that you postpone tasks that have no deadline or those that involve doing something that you are uncomfortable with?
  2. Keep a list of all the tasks that you need to do and prioritize them. Tell yourself that jumping the priority list is not allowed.
  3. Finally, reward yourself with something that you like when you complete each task. Take a break and sip a hot refreshing cappuccino before you start the next thing, take a walk, or simply pause to look out the window; rewards, both big and small, can help you stay motivated and focused.

4 Factors to Consider about Teaching Jobs and School Reform

School reform is never easy. When sweeping changes are decided upon and implemented, everyone must fully participate in order for students to benefit from the changes and certainly not to suffer during the transition. Part of providing that stability for students is through a strong front of teachers that remain at the school during the sometimes turbulent reform process.

Here are a few things to think about when evaluating school reform:

  1. Reform just isn’t possible without a united front of educators and administrators. A shared vision is challenging to create and maintain without stable leadership, and a supportive culture from the staff.  It is a simple fact of life that high staff turnover can create instability and have a negative impact on efforts to establish a consistent learning environment for students. High staff turnover is also quite costly, particularly when the recruitment of teachers, and then the training of new teachers in the intricacies of the reform effort are considered.
  2. More effort and support needs to be given to the recruitment process for teachers at the outset as schools and districts initiate reform efforts. Hiring teachers who “fit” reform goals will likely reduce teacher attrition.  Still, more support needs to be available for new teachers. Even teachers who ostensibly have the skills and attitudes that align with reform goals will need mentoring and other supports as they begin their jobs. Every attempt must be made to reduce the debilitating rate of turnover.
  3. Most efforts now are centered on how to make the most of current funding and utilizing money effectively in order to maximize the positive impact of reforms, rather than how to access untapped resources. Despite the dearth of new money, it is possible to free up cash through alternative means of spending. An extreme proposal to accomplish this is to reduce staffing to the absolute minimum. For example, a school with 500 students would have 20 teachers and 1 principal. Approximately $1 million could become available, depending on how many education specialists (regular and categorical) and instructional aides worked within the school. This is radical option, and there are other, less extreme ways to change the way money is spent, to include increasing class sizes, spending less on upgrading technology, and eliminating some programs.
  4. Sometimes, spending money on non-essential areas does support school reform efforts. Prioritizing what money is spent on does not automatically mean cutting all non-academic projects. What gets cut will depend on the goals of individual schools. This should be a workable situation, as long as the school is still accountable to the state and the district for shifts in expenditures. An understanding that cutting teaching jobs can actually be detrimental to reform is important though, instead of just looking at the numbers on a piece of paper.

What do you think? Is an austerity approach (trying to have as few teachers as possible) better than one that places a higher importance on the teachers than on the budget?

Should We Rewrite American History Books?

“History has a point of view; it cannot be all things to all people.” – Samuel Taylor

When it comes to textbooks, every school district in the nation has its own system for ordering. What a district chooses impacts what the students in those boundaries learn. When it comes to subjects like math, science and even English there are some absolute truths that must be followed. When it comes to history or social sciences though, there is some wiggle room. These subjects have their own facts, of course, but the perspective can make all the difference. Of all topics, these have the ability to be biased or slanted towards a particular group.

Since the early 1990s there has been a push to make the American history lessons taught in K-12 classrooms more multicultural in their approach. From the truth behind Christopher Columbus’ alleged ruthless ways to the acknowledgment that Thomas Jefferson bore children with his slaves, the Puritanical, patriotic approach to America’s founders has been questioned – at least by some. Is it right to put these men on a pedestal? Is it wrong to point out their flaws? Which is more important – the truth or shared nationalistic beliefs?

The latest iteration of these arguments comes out of Texas. A coalition of Hispanic-American educators and over 50 organizations have petitioned the State Board ofEducation to have Mexican-American history placed on a list of over 200 electives available in Texas high schools. The list in place now includes electives like Web gaming and floral design. The petition is meeting opposition, however, because of the danger of its “leftist” ideals. Board members also cite the expense (one former member cited “millions” when it comes to price tag) and say that there is no reason to officially add the course since school districts already have the authority to teach it if they want.

Given that logic, there was probably never a need to add floral design, or Web gaming, to the official list either. Yet somewhere along the way that “cost” was justified.

Yet the history of the state told from the perspective of the ancestors of its majority student group is not worth putting on the official list.
The refusal in Texas speaks volumes to the opposing histories that exist in this country. American history has come to mean anything from a migratory European perspective. But the term “American” itself cannot be contained to just one simple definition, or one region of the world. The people here are multicultural and multiethnic, and each home country’s history IS a part of the American one. Yet some educators would rather compartmentalize the rich, vibrant and diverse histories into teachable units with a common theme. I don’t believe that gives students a full perspective on their histories and those of their fellow citizens. The narrowness in our own history classrooms leads to greater close-mindedness when it comes to other areas of the world, too.

There are history and social studies teachers who do a good job presenting more than one side to each story, and those teachers should be applauded for their efforts. But for K-12 students to have a fuller, well-informed view on their own histories and futures, courses like Mexican-American history need to be taught, along with Asian-American, African-American and any other type of “American” ones. We need to give our students the credit to come to their own conclusions about their country, and not leave out inconvenient details. By essentially censoring what they learn, we do our students a great disservice and our country, too.

What do you think? Is it possible to expand the depth of history classes and still have students with shared values?