Mathematics through the Middle Years

As parents and educators, I'm sure we share varied and diverse memories of the beautiful experience that is 'Mathematics' throughout our educational journey. The great Math debate surrounding ‘streamed’ Math classes versus ‘mixed ability’ classes has been long discussed and debated in education circles. As a College and in particular as a Middle School, we have traditionally subscribed to the streamed classes within Years 7 to 9, whilst supporting a mixed ability approach in the Junior years and into Year 5 and 6, as we do in most other core curriculum areas, with the Senior pathway options for Mathematics a little different again.

It’s worth noting at this point however, that streaming does and did not consist of a vertical curriculum, with all students completing essentially the same curriculum, assessment and learning opportunities, with the variable being volume of work, depth and speed of delivery.

Over the past couple of years we have been intentional about collecting and considering our school-based data, in an attempt to qualify student improvements/growth amidst the growing body of research promoting a global Maths reform. Including the opportunities within mixed ability classrooms, with a ‘low floor, high ceiling’ approach, allowing more of a growth mindset in our students (and teachers). Whilst also allowing for natural development of ‘thinking’ within the Maths curriculum, learning through not only explicit teaching, but also through problem/project based collaborative interactions. 

When considering standardised testing results, NAPLAN and our own teaching and learning assessment, we continue to see a very similar trend to that which has been presented Nationally within Mathematics. These trends have initiated our desire to change our Math structure for 2018 and beyond. 

It is evident that changing the structure of our Maths classes in isolation will not make a considerable difference, therefore we have been working through some curriculum and pedagogy changes within our Math curriculum leading into this year, with further professional development for our Maths staff, directed at best practice in Maths education for the 21st Century. We’re following and connecting to the work of Jo Boaler, an educational Author and Professor of Mathematics Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Part of this focus on continual improvement within our Maths faculty was the decision to move towards mixed ability classes across Years 7 to 9, to better support the curriculum, pedagogy and learning framework we’re continuing to develop.

As a broader staff, we have also been challenged with the changing landscape of our role as Educators in the 21st Century, considering the importance of collaboration and Professional Learning Communities (PLC) within the work we do to ensure all of our students are supported at their individual level of learning. The published work of educational researcher Richard DuFour, links increases in student performance to schools where there was a shared vision of leadership, where each member of the teaching-learning community contributed, and where teachers collectively planned activities and then reflected together upon completion. We feel that this PLC model is best supported within our Mathematics faculty in a structure of mixed ability classes, where staff are planning, developing and communicating together to meet the needs of our young mathematicians, hopefully reducing the age-old  concerns of the 'teacher lottery'.

It is important however, which we will address with our students on a broader level, to be open and positive towards a potentially new and different learning environment within Mathematics. I do recognise that some parents may share an alternate perspective on this and I encourage those who wish to discuss their particular concerns to make contact with me.


Kindest regards,

Mr Tony Costa
Head of Campus


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