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Audrey Cooke

Dr Audrey Cooke has worked with pre-service teachers since 2008. Her passion for mathematics, and her belief that everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy mathematics and their mathematical experiences, has driven her work with pre-service teachers. Her work with pre-service teachers, many of who will work with children from birth through to 12 years of age, focuses on creating experiences that enable pre-service teachers to re-vision how they see and engage with mathematics. These experiences include pre-service teachers finding out personal mathematical strengths and areas needing development, their disposition towards mathematics, ways of sharing their investigations of and solutions for mathematical problems, and opportunities to reflect on what they know about mathematics.


"Encouraging pre-service teachers to re-vision mathematics – focusing on the “have a go” aspect of numeracy"

We probably all have a teacher who had a great impact on us. Hopefully, most of us remember a teacher who had a positive influence, who encouraged us to have a go, take a chance, or push ourselves to our best. With the focus on the importance of STEM (for example, see the recent release of the Office of the Chief Scientist (2014), particularly the points regarding inspirational teaching and inspired learning on page 23), there is a need to ensure that teachers are willing to engage their students in a way that makes them want to have a go, take a chance, push themselves.

This demonstration showcases a new approach to developing numeracy in pre-service teachers. The approach incorporates tools and activities that enable pre-service teachers to investigate and cultivate their mathematical competency and their disposition towards mathematics. The aim is to provide a new way for these pre-service teachers to vision mathematics. This re-visioning would enable these future teachers to engage their students in mathematical activities and experiences that promote connections, stimulate interest in, and generate excitement for mathematics.

In teacher education, the focus is on numeracy of pre-service teachers.  Pre-service teacher numeracy needs careful consideration as it should incorporate more than mathematics skills or mathematical competence. This is not new – Dottin (2009) discussed the difference between having a skill or competence and being willing to use it. As a result, numeracy should also involve disposition towards mathematics—a consideration of the attitudes towards mathematics, the confidence to engage in mathematical activities, the presence or not of mathematics anxiety, and how mathematics is conceived. These components can all impact on the level of willingness to use mathematics skills and to develop mathematical competency.

This approach focuses the description of numeracy provided by Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers (AAMT, 1997) – “personal confidence, comfort and willingness to ‘have-a-go’” (p. 14).  That is, as well as a personal understanding of mathematics, pre-service teachers need to be willing to use their understanding of mathematics. However, pre-service teachers may suffer from mathematics anxiety, a lack of confidence in mathematics, or negative attitudes towards mathematics – all of which may have developed over years from their experiences of mathematics in their formal schooling. However, if these experiences go unchallenged, they may interfere with pre-service teacher use of mathematics and creation of mathematics learning experiences for their future students. It may also result in pre-service teachers never experiencing joy with mathematics or the chance to “play” with mathematical activities (Beswick, Watson, & Brown, 2006).

As part of an emphasis on developing pre-service teacher numeracy – their mathematical skills, mathematical competence, and willingness to have a go – this unit focuses on encouraging pre-service teachers to revision how they view mathematics and their personal numeracy. Our students are given tools with which they can investigate their mathematical competence, their attitudes towards mathematics, their confidence with completing mathematical activities, and levels of mathematics anxiety that they may have. These are important, as there is a requirement for pre-service teachers to prove competency in mathematics before they can teach. However, this has the capacity to create mathematics anxiety and to reinforce attitudes that the focus on mathematics is on providing one correct answer by following a pre-set and unequivocal series of steps. By incorporating the mathematics competency test in the unit, together with tools to investigate disposition towards mathematics, and moving away from a focus on answers to one of recognising existing understandings and exploring ways to improve areas identified as needing improvement, the potential “high-stakes” nature of the mathematics competency test is deflected.  In addition, opportunities are provided that present new ways to use and engage with mathematics, beyond following a series of steps to flexibility, usability, and connectedness. These include exploring and discussing knowledge of mathematical areas and exposure to a range of resources that can increase that knowledge; working on open-beginning and open-ended Fermi-esque problems (Peter-Koop, 2009), but with a focus on how a solution may be created and what mathematics could be used; and, examining how mathematics is used in and relates to the world and everyday life. The overall aim is to present experiences that can encourage and enable pre-service teachers to focus on their numeracy – their mathematical skills, their mathematical competency, and their willingness to have a go.

Results from the first iteration of the unit were provided in Cooke (2014). Findings indicated that the pre-service teachers experienced changes in their mathematical competency and their disposition towards mathematics. These changes included increased mathematical competency, decreased mathematics anxiety, increased confidence, and changes in attitudes towards viewing mathematics as relevant and useful in their worlds.