Monday, 1 Aug 2011

For immediate release Monday 1 August 2011

Effective mathematics teachers encourage students to see the world numerically and interpret everyday information mathematically, according to a review of research released today by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).

Teaching Mathematics: Using research informed strategies by Monash University academic Professor Peter Sullivan, contends that in order to meet the demands of adult life, students need mathematical knowledge that is flexible and adaptable.

The review draws on the proceedings of the 2010 ACER Research Conference, Teaching Mathematics? Make it count: What research tells us about effective mathematics teaching and learning, and on international research to suggest that the main emphasis in mathematics teaching and learning in the compulsory years of schooling should be on practical and useable mathematics that prepares students for work and for living in a technological society.

According to Professor Sullivan, such a curriculum would be quite different from the current emphasis on procedural knowledge that dominates Australian mathematics teaching and assessment.

“The custom of teachers demonstrating a mathematical procedure then setting repetitious practice of similar examples is both boring and restrictive for students,” said Professor Sullivan.

“Effective mathematics teaching involves presenting students with important and engaging tasks, which students can explore and decide on their own problem-solving strategies.”  

The review presents a set of six principles of teaching mathematics that should be the focus for teacher education and professional learning in mathematics. Professor Sullivan stresses that professional development that involves teachers in all aspects of design, delivery and evaluation is more likely to improve teaching practice than externally designed and imposed initiatives.

“There is potential for improvement in the learning of mathematics at all levels of the education system,” said Professor Sullivan. “The pathway to improvement is through teacher learning.”

Releasing the review, ACER’s chief executive Professor Geoff Masters said, “The issues highlighted in this review of research are relevant to Australian mathematics teachers, to those who support them, and also to those who make policy decisions about mathematics teaching.”

Peter Sullivan is Professor of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education at Monash University and President of the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers. He was lead writer for The Australian Curriculum: Mathematics and has had editorial roles with the international Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education.

The Australian Education Review (AER) series is edited by ACER Senior Research Fellow Suzanne Mellor. AER number 59, Teaching Mathematics: Using research informed strategies by Peter Sullivan, is available as a free download from the ACER website at Print copies can be purchased from ACER Press. Contact customer service on 1800 338 402 or via email on


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