FRF Mathematics Education Chair
The vision is for the FRF Mathematics Education Chair to serve as a beacon of excellence by initiating and coordinating teacher education and research projects that focus on improving the quality of mathematics teaching and learning (NRF, 2008).
In particular the Chair seeks:
- To improve the quality of teaching of in-service mathematics teachers at previously disadvantaged secondary schools;
- To improve the mathematics results in previously disadvantaged secondary schools as a result of quality teaching and learning;
- To research sustainable and practical solutions to the mathematics crisis; and
- To provide leadership in mathematics education and increase dialogue around solutions for the mathematics education crisis (NRF, 2008).
This will be achieved through an interwoven research and development agenda where research and development are equal partners.
The FirstRand Foundation Mathematics Education Chair is hosted by Rhodes University, jointly funded by the FirstRand Foundation, RMB Fund, the Department of Science and Technology and administered by the National Research Foundation.
The FRF Mathematics Education Chair conducts the following research projects.
The research questions that have formed the basis of our research activities are:
- What appropriate teaching strategies could assist in building confidence and proficiency in Mathematics teachers?
- How can a positive professional identity be grown?
- What is the nature of the mathematics backlog of our pupils?
- How can effective and innovative learning and teaching resources be developed?
- What is the impact of the work of the Chair?
Research question 1
The main focus in answering this question is on developing understanding and proficiency around the inter-relationship between conceptual and procedural teaching and learning. The work of Kilpatrick et al. is a key ingredient in developing our MTEP programme and conceptualising research projects in this regard. The underlying theme in all of our MTEP sessions is to grow mathematical content knowledge in relation to learning and teaching it in a conceptually meaningful and proficient way. This implies relating the mathematical content to:
- Innovative pedagogy
- Real-life and appropriate cultural contexts
- The ever-changing curriculum and its interpretation
- Individual needs of the pupils
- The teacher’s own positive disposition
Research question 2
The notion of a well-established professional identity is key to restoring the positive disposition of our mathematics teachers. Our discourse around professional identity is informed by the work of many researchers such as Beijaard, Lave and Wenger, Sfard and many more who talk about professional identity encompassing:
- The teacher as a subject matter expert. Teachers require a deep and full understanding of mathematics and its processes.
- The teacher as a pedagogic expert. Teachers require comprehensive pedagogical knowledge in order to teach proficiently. This includes knowledge of the moral, ethical, social and cultural dimensions of their teaching. It also includes knowledge about the curriculum – its interpretation, adaptation and appropriate implementation.
- The teacher as a didactical expert. Teachers need to develop a repertoire of effective teaching modes and strategies.
- The teacher as a contributor to a community of practice. Teachers are intricate members of a community of practice.
- The teacher as a member of a community of inquiry. Teachers are life-long learners and engage in reflective practice and research to inform and enhance their practice.
Research question 3
In order to structure the content of the MTEP sessions, it is critical to understand what sections of the curriculum are most problematic for learners in each Grade. In order to obtain the necessary data to provide this information it was decided to conduct benchmark testing in Grade 10, Grade 11 and Grade 12 in all the participating schools. Such extensive testing understandably needs to be handled with due sensitivity, and to this end a Grade 11 benchmarking pilot project was carried out in a number of schools in 2010. The results of this benchmarking exercise were discussed with the participating schools and this paved the way to a more extensive benchmarking exercise in 2011 for all three grades. By this stage schools had a good understanding of the purpose of the benchmarking exercise as well as a feeling for how the data would be used not only to provide useful feedback to each school, but also to more meaningfully structure the MTEP sessions.
Research question 4
As part of the MTEP programme, it is our desire that teachers should be able to take away from each MTEP session a resource that they will be able to make use of in their own classrooms. This resource is either a physical artefact (e.g. a trigonometry board or inclinometer) or appropriately designed worksheets etc. It is these resources that form a fundamental link between the MTEP sessions and the on-site teacher support.
In addition, the VITALmaths project specifically targets mobile technology as a means of providing both teachers and learners with appropriate learning resources. The VITALmaths project produces and disseminates short, silent video clips that can be viewed either on a computer screen or on a cellphone. The video clips explore and develop mathematical themes in a progressive manner that supports and encourages genuine mathematical exploration.
Research question 5
This aspect of our research programme is ongoing and is addressed in numerous ways. The notion of impact is very problematic and controversial. We take a very diverse position and wish to see impact as comprehensibly as possible. Pupil performance is just one index of impact – there are many others. Evidence of impact can be found in the following:
- teacher evaluations
- pupil performance
- teacher participation
- pupil participation
- other work/impact of the Chair
- theoretical impact