Seonia Wark, Head of Mathematics, is responsible for introducing a new way of teaching maths at TAS that is a hit with boys. She explains the philosophy behind the method and the positive results.
Why are more than 90 percent of boys at TAS taking maths for the HSC?
We began by making significant changes to the students’ learning spaces. Classrooms were opened up to create light and bright alternative learning environments that students enjoyed being in. There is now more room to undertake construction activities, or conversely create intimate areas where students of similar abilities can be extended. Now the students are deriving the benefits of these physical changes.
However, this was just the start …
The maths staff then adopted a new philosophy in how the subject was taught – not just more challenging questions, but allowing students to discover mathematical relationships, search for patterns and to access advanced concepts at an earlier point in their schooling.
We also decided to open up the maths classrooms on Sunday afternoons for Year 10-12 students, and we now have a dozen or so who come every weekend to study or just to talk with staff.
Because the students feel more supported in their study and see teachers prepared to make the extra effort, the students are more interested in their learning and are studying more independently. We have also seen an increase in the number of students wanting to pursue careers in mathematics.
Part of the attraction is no doubt the use of technology – a passion of mine.
Seonia, you are an Apple Distinguished Educator. What does this mean?
Last year I was honoured as an Apple Distinguished Educator – one of three ADEs at TAS. This prestigious title is awarded on the basis of professional learning, delivery of international lectures and subsequent mentorship to fellow teachers.
It is bestowed on a small number of teachers from around the world by a committee of peers. In Australia, ADE are only awarded every three years, so I was very humbled to receive such an award.
It has come about as a result of lectures I have presented at conferences in Australia and Singapore on the way technology can empower classroom learning across key learning areas.
This is indeed an area I am very passionate about, and mathematics is a subject that really lends itself to technology.
In conjunction with PLC Armidale, we run an extension combined maths / science class for students in Year 9 and 10, covering material that is not part of the curriculum. The purpose of this course is to allow talented mathematicians and scientists to extend their knowledge into areas that are not normally taught at school and to research and present their findings to experts in Australia and overseas.
TAS Director of Information Technology, Martin Levins, commented that innovations such as these reflected a worldwide shift in teaching philosophies, whereby subjects such as mathematics are more than the printed page and acres of repetitive questions.
“Technology use is more than looking stuff up,” he said, “and maths is more than arithmetic: our students are working towards a deeper understanding of their subject by using technology in a creative way.”
This new teaching philosophy has resulted in your mentoring Sydney schools …
Some of the teachers from Sydney independent and government schools have asked why more than 90 per cent of boys at TAS are taking maths for the HSC. This figure is considerably higher than the average for metropolitan independent schools.
According to figures quoted at a recent meeting of Heads of Mathematics in the Independent Schools Sector, one in five students at independent schools no longer choose maths at HSC level compared to only one in 25 not choosing maths at TAS.
As a result, I have been asked to mentor maths staff at various Sydney schools, including St Joseph’s College Hunters Hill, Santa Sabina College Strathfield and Dapto High School.
You have other strings to your bow also, Seonia. As Assistant to the Director of Studies at TAS, you have just organised an Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia (AHISA) Director of Studies Conference here in Armidale in conjunction with PLC?
Yes, this was a very worthwhile joint exercise, both for the schools and the town. Some 60 Directors attended from around the state, and we had guest speakers from the Board of Studies, Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) and UNE, along with a range of presenters.
It was an excellent conference, and I enjoyed the opportunity to meet with other Independent Schools Director of Studies.
Finally, to round off your broad involvement in extra activities at TAS, you are also the Manager of the Forensic Camp that TAS hosts annually?
This is one of the more enjoyable roles I have at the school. Some 120 students from NSW, Queensland and Canberra have a fantastic time at this five day camp, using forensics to solve a crime.
Both girls and boys are involved in a situation where thoroughness, imagination and cooperation must be combined to create a result – who committed the crime. It’s great fun for all.
Thank you Seonia.