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Revolutionising the way students learn maths

Wellington High School maths teacher Bernie Wills on the innovative new mathematics programme that won him an Education Hub Bright Spots award.

Bernie Wills

Bernie Wills

An innovative new framework designed by PPTA member Bernie Wills is revolutionising the way students learn maths. 

The Pāngarau Waenganui programme places students at the centre, designing their own maths courses based on their personal interests and future career plans. Students control the pace of their learning and decide when they want to sit assessments.

“I know my students much better than before and have meaningful discussions about their future as they design their own individual courses,” Bernie said.
First trialed in 2017 with year 11 and 12 maths students at Hutt Valley High School, the framework netted Bernie a spot on the Education Hub’s Bright Spots Awards programme. This means he has been able to develop and extend the programme to be applicable to a range of schools, giving an increasing number of students a renewed passion for classroom mathematics.

We were convinced we could do better

Bernie, who now teaches at Wellington High School, decided to pursue the project after a review of the maths programmes and results at Hutt Valley High where he was working at the time.

“We were alarmed at the way it had become okay for people to say they couldn’t do maths and that they weren’t maths people and were convinced we could do better,” he said.

“Our teaching was also ignoring the key competencies in the curriculum and their relevance to students’ futures and the skills needed for workplace success. I wanted to improve students’ understanding of maths so they could transfer their skills to different problems, rather than simply rote learn and pass a test.”

A pathway students can tackle at their own pace

In 2017 the programme was trialled in a couple of classes at Hutt Valley High School and in 2018 it was extended to all the school’s year 11 and 12 students.
Pāngarau Waenganui allows students to design their own maths programme in consultation with their teacher. They can focus on algebra, statistics, or a combination of both, and can take it as either a one-year or two-year course. The programme is a pathway into year 13 calculus, statistics, or maths & statistics.

“We recorded short teaching videos covering a range of curriculum topics, which students could tackle at their own pace. Classes were then spent working directly with students, with academic mentoring and tutorial-style sessions built into the learning programme. Students could then sit assessments when they were confident they were ready,” Bernie said.

No more ‘sea of blank faces’

All change is unsettling, and this appeared to be especially true when a new mathematical approach was implemented, Bernie said. “Some took longer to realise the true flexibility of topic choice and assessment timing but after a settling in period most students achieved higher grades than previously. Very few had the negative feedback of failing an assessment because they only sat it when they were ready.”

This year Bernie moved to Wellington High School and has been able to see the original structure of the course adapted to a different setting as Te Ara Pāngarau.

“I no longer lecture to a sea of blank faces and students’ questions are more focussed,” Bernie said.  “My focus has grown from one programme developed for one school, towards developing a framework applicable to a range of schools, and hopefully to subjects other than maths.”

Acknowledgement and encouragement

Being a 2018 Bright Spots awardee was further acknowledgement that the project was worthwhile and encouragement to continue, Bernie said. “The support has been fantastic and hearing about the scope and innovation of the other four Bright Spots groups is inspiring.”

“I’ve used most of my award as release time to research and review the progress of the programme and to meet people to discuss further development of the framework. I have three Te Ara Pāngarau classes which offer the wide range of personalities expected and time to work with the other nine staff teaching the course.”

It’s taught me a lot. The application and interview process made me focus on the core purpose of my project and find ways to explain it to people who weren’t embedded in it. The Bright Spark mentors led us through a thorough planning process that schools rarely have the time or skills to undertake.

Bernie will be delivering presentations at various conferences and hopes to discuss the framework with new schools as well as strengthen relationships with schools and organisations that have already expressed interest. He also hopes to look at ways of implementing it in other curriculum areas.

Applications for the 2019 Bright Spots Awards are open from April 29 to June 14. The Bright Spots Awards support the development, evaluation and sharing of innovative practice in schools and ECE centres. For information and application forms visit theeducationhub.org.nz

Bright Spots Awards (educationhub,org,nz) 





Last modified on Tuesday, 28 May 2019 15:48