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This essay outlines the key principles underpinning the effective teaching and learning of mathematics. The

following three sections identify and explore the underlying key principles in children’s learning and effective

teaching, as well as the importance of prior knowledge and the various strategies educators employ to reveal

children’s understanding of mathematical ideas.

Section A

The Australian Curriculum (2016) outlines a number of key ideas that underpin children’s learning of

mathematics. These key principles are the proficiency strands of; understanding, fluency, problem-solving

and reasoning. The proficiency strands describe the actions in which students can engage when learning

and using the content. (Australian Curriculum, 2016)

As portrayed through the Australian Curriculum (2016) in the key concept Understanding, students acquire

and build a strong foundation of knowledge of mathematical concepts that can be adaptable and

transferable. As students grow and learn intellectually they begin to make connections between their selves

and their worlds through these concepts. (Australian Curriculum, 2016)

As described in Piaget’s Stages of Development, from birth to age 2, the “Sensorimotor Stage” occurs

when infants think by manipulating the world around them, for example, knowing an object still exists even

after it is hidden and being able to comprehend the process. (Piaget, 1936) From a mathematical

perspective, this may imply that a child of this age may visualise the shape of the object, how many legs or

points the object has, or count how many are hidden. We must make note that understanding is not an “all-

or-nothing” proposition and that it depends on the existence of appropriate ideas and on the creation of

new connections, which varies from person-to-person. (Van de Walle, et al. 2014)

The other key concepts, Problem-Solving, Fluency and Reasoning may best be related to the “Concrete

Operational” stage in Piaget’s Stages of Development, from ages 7-11, characterized by the idea that

children's reasoning becomes focused and logical. (Piaget, 1958) Problem-Solving is depicted in the

Australian curriculum (2016) as, beginning to make choices, interpret, formulate, model and investigate

problematic situations and communicate solutions efficiently. Reasoning is where students develop a

mature capacity for logical thought and Fluency is having the ability to correlate appropriate mathematical

procedures to the task. (Australian Curriculum 2016) Problem-Solving, Fluency and Reasoning may also

begin to cross into Piaget’s “Formal Operational” stage, which occurs from age 11 to adulthood and is

generalised by the idea that children develop the ability to think in abstract ways. (Piaget, 1932)

EDUC 2059 Studies in Mathematics Education 1 Student ID# 110136197

These key principles performed by students in a primary/middle mathematics classroom context require the

integration of enablers such as specific stages in the inquiry process. The use of questioning, analysing,

evaluating and communicating would be applied in the utilisation of the key principles. Students could use

questioning and communicating to discuss the most effective way to solve a problem or negotiate which

method or formula would be most efficient. By analysing specific components to a mathematical situation

or problem, students will employ their logical reasoning to evaluate and communicate a solution with an

appropriate justification for their answer. Peat (2006) addressed that communication and other phases in

the process of inquiry encouraged more learning in the classroom than anticipated. Students learnt about

social skills, teamwork, and about using appropriately terminology within real-life situations. (Peat, 2006)

Incorporating play, acts as an effective enabler that underpins children’s learning of mathematics. Harris

(2009) outlines “integrated play” as connecting people, ideas, events, experiences and resources.

Integrated play could be seen as children playing and having fun, but will unknowingly be taking part in rich

mathematical learning experiences with the various resources they are given to play with. They use social

learning along with their experiences and ideas to share a learning episode through play, sparking

mathematical interest, curiosity, thinking, reasoning and problem-solving.

Section B

Sullivan (2011) collated six key principles that can assist in guiding effective teaching practice in

Mathematics. These principles are useful in not just mathematics, presenting versatility in a way that

makes them adaptable and easy to apply in other curriculum areas. (Sullivan, 2011)

One of the key principles that underpin effective teaching is articulating clear goals or questions for

students. In generating these goals for students it is imperative that teachers give them rich and thorough

feedback, as it influences student achievement, Hattie and Timperley (2007). Gaining useful feedback can

assist students in knowing exactly where they are going, how they are going, and where they are going to

next, (Sullivan, 2011). Teachers in primary/middle school settings should make collaborative class goals as

well as specific personal goals for individual students, (Sullivan, 2011).

By building on students existing knowledge connections can be made between previous intelligence and

future acquisitions, (Sullivan, 2011). When faced with a mathematical problem with a story behind it, an

effective strategy to assist students could be to leave the mathematical problem the same, but simply

change the story to a familiar topic to be more appropriate and to help contextualise the problem for

students (Sullivan, 2011). Hattie (2009) & Swan (2005) both advocate the constructive use of existing

knowledge and obtaining this requires the assessment of what the students know and can do. Teachers

need to build on and work towards what students do not already know. This can be done in a way that

Vygotsky describes in using the model in his Social Learning Theory, where teachers should teach within a

students “Zone of Proximal Development,” which can be achieved by Scaffolding Learning through the use

of one or more, “More Knowledgeable Others”. (Woolfolk & Margetts, 2013)

Sullivan (2011) expresses that in order to effectively teach we must foster the engagement of our students

by utilising a variety of rich, high-quality and challenging tasks that allow students to learn the content by

determining their own strategies and solutions. Teachers should ask formative, well-designed questions

that allow students to verify and relate their strategies, listen to student responses and observe student

work. This ultimately will extend and formalize thinking in a way that engages students, (Van de Walle, et

al. 2014). When teaching mathematics, teachers should select cognitively demanding tasks which involves

a higher-level of thinking, rather than routine problems which follow known procedures focusing more on

memorization, (Hollingsworth et al., 2003).

Differentiating learning tasks is imperative in effective teaching. Van de Walle, et al. (2014), explains that

when we teach mathematics, it is important to teach problems that have multiple entry and exit points. The

task should have challenges that vary; this can accommodate the diversity of learners in every classroom,

as students are encouraged to use a variety of strategies that are supported by their prior experiences.

Teaching in this way promotes success as students are being challenged at their level but in a way that

they are still in reach of achieving success. (Sullivan, 2011)

The way teachers’ structure lessons and the experiences they provide are the single most important factor

in moving students up the developmental ladder featured in The Van Hiele Theory (Van de Walle, et al.

2014). New topics should be introduced with the sole purpose of engagement. Ask students questions that

relate to their worlds to get them intrigued and excited to see what is to come. Lessons should involve

students learning, understanding and then applying course concepts in the particular topic, with opportunity

to take part in rich social interactions with others, which as described by Wood (2002), substantially

contributes to childrens’ opportunities for learning.

Section C

Prior Knowledge is knowledge that you have previously acquired and now know. Sometimes, it is not in your

conscious memory until it is activated by something familiar around you or is featured in the topic you are

currently discussing or studying in a particular context. When solving minor problems, the similarities that arise

between existing knowledge and a new problem can remind people of what they already know. BBC British

Council (2016) conveys the notion that a learner's understanding of a topic can be enhanced by activating their

prior knowledge before commencing that topic. Campbell (2008) suggests that the role of prior knowledge in

learning is paradoxical: it can lead to both success and failure in the classroom.

Lovett, M (2016) and Campbell (2008) articulate that students, of any age, come to the classroom with an

extensive range of pre-existing knowledge, skills, beliefs, and attitudes, all in which influence how they attend,

interpret, organize in-coming information in the classroom, or simply, influence what and how they learn.

Riojas-Cortez et al. (2008) expressed the idea that teachers can attempt to identify what unique experiences

students and their families’ posses, and can later link them to instruction. It can also be helpful to understand

how these experiences can be practically and meaningfully connected to the classroom curriculum, which, by

drawing on them, can enhance learning (Moll, Amanti, Neff & Gonzalez, 1992). Background knowledge and

experiences that students have accumulated in their households with siblings, peers, friends, communities and

parents are extremely valuable to their lives and their acquisition of new knowledge. (Moll, Amanti, Neff, &

González, 1992).

By tuning into students interests through close observation, teachers are able to create contexts whereby

students can be successful in the classroom. For example, with a third grade bilingual student who expresses

an interest in soccer, the teacher can give them bilingual books on subjects to do with sports or soccer

specifically, to ensure that student also, has the opportunity to be successful in classroom literacy practices

such as writing. (Gutiérrez, 2002)

Thus, taking that extra time to seek out and understand student’s backgrounds and interests can assist

teachers in crafting meaningful learning experiences that are crafted based on student’s strengths whilst

acknowledging and addressing their weaknesses. (Lovett, 2016)

A great starting point when attempting to uncover students’ prior knowledge would be to facilitate a whole class

brainstorming session to see what the students already know about the upcoming topic, before actually

introducing it. (Lovett, 2016) The topic could be, for example, area and perimeter in a mathematics lesson.

Engaging in a whole class discussion can be effective but may present a too broad idea of where students are

actually at, and may require some further investigation to assist in determining where exactly would be a

proximal opening point for the new topic. (Roth & Roychoudhury, 1993).

It may prove necessary to communicate with students’ teachers from the previous year, to see if there is any

significant intellectual gifts or disabilities to seek out with particular students. There may even come an

opportunity to engage in formal or informal conversations with parents, before or after school, during parent

teacher interviews, or via email to find out more about the student’s and their backgrounds. (González et al.,

1995) It could also be of use to the teacher to investigate the requirements and content from the previous year

in the Australian Curriculum, in order to distinguish the extent to which the topic has been addressed in the

previous year. (Australian Curriculum, 2016)

Teachers may facilitate whole class discussions with a subject that can allow opportunity for all students to talk

about their backgrounds and interests. In order to cater for a diversity of students backgrounds and knowledge

teachers can use the information they gain from a class discussion to inform their teaching decisions by

amending tasks and topic to help students make connections with themselves and their worlds, in an attempt

to spark interest and promote success. (Annenberg, 2016)

When introducing and teaching mathematics, the teacher may initiate a lesson by undertaking some informal

or diagnostic assessments in the form of a simple Q & A or quiz, to see what students already know, and

teachers can then produce learning experiences that are not so advanced that some students get left behind,

whilst also not so simple that other students get bored. (Lovett, 2016) (Ritchhart, & Perkins, 2005).

Conclusion

If we as future educators employ the knowledge of the fundamental principles which underpin students

learning in mathematics, together with the understanding of students prior knowledge, the utilization of this in

their learning, and implementation of the fundamental principles and strategies that constitute effective

teaching, can effectively assist us in helping students achieve their mathematical goals.

1937 words

REFERENCE LIST

Boundless. “Piaget's Stages of Cognitive Development.” Boundless Psychology. Boundless, 08 Aug. 2016.

Retrieved 06 Aug. 2016

González, N., Moll, L., Tenery, M., Rivera, A., Rendon, P., González, R., & Amanti, C. (1995). Funds of

Knowledge for teaching in Latino households. Urban Education, 29, 443-470

Gutiérrez, P. (2002). In Search of Bedrock: Organizing for Success With Diverse Needs Children in the

Classroom. Journal of Latinos & Education, 1(1), 49.

Harris, P. (2009) Language Learning in the Baby and Toddler Years, Terrigal, N.S.W.: David Barlow

Publishing, 2009.

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81–112.

Hollingsworth, H., Lokan, J., & McCrae, B. (2003). Teaching mathematics in Australia: Results from the TIMSS

video study (TIMSS Australia Monograph No. 5). Melbourne: Australian Council for Educational Research.

Lovett, M (2016) University, Carnegie. "Assessing Prior Knowledge-Teaching Excellence & Educational

Innovation - Carnegie Mellon University". Cmu.edu. N.p., 2016. Web. 9 Aug. 2016.

Moll, L.C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & González, N. (1992). Funds of Knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative

approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory Into Practice, 31 (2), 132-141.

Piaget, J. (1932). The moral judgment of the child. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Piaget, J. (1936). Origins of intelligence in the child. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Piaget, J. (1958). The growth of logical thinking from childhood to adolescence. AMC, 10, 12.

Riojas-Cortez, M., Huerta, M., Flores, B., Perez, B., & Clark, E. (2008). Using cultural tools to develop scientific

literacy of young Mexican American pre-schoolers. Early childhood development and care, 178(5), 527-536.

Ritchhart, R., & Perkins, D. N. (2005). Learning to think: The challenges of teaching thinking. In K. Holyoak,

& R. G. Morrison (Eds.), Cambridge handbook of thinking and reasoning. Cambridge: Cambridge University

Press.

Ritchhart, R., & Perkins, D. N. (2008). Making thinking visible. Educational Leadership, 65(5), 57–61.

Roth, W-M., & Roychoudhury, A. (1993). Using vee and concept maps in collaborative settings: Elementary

education majors construct meaning in physical science courses. School Science and Mathematics, 93,

237–244.

Swan, M. (2005). Improving learning in mathematics: Challenges and strategies. Sheffield, England:

Department of Education and Skills Standards Unity.

Van de Walle, JA, Karp. K & Bay-Williams, J 2014, Elementary and middle school mathematics; teaching

developmentally, 8th edition, Pearson, New York.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA:

Harvard University Press.

Wood, T. (2002). What does it mean to teach mathematics differently? In B. Barton, K.C. Irwin, M. Pfannkuch

& M. Thomas (Eds.), Mathematics education in the South Pacific (pp. 61–71). Auckland: Mathematics

Education Research Group of Australasia.

Woolfolk, A & Margetts, K 2013, Educational Psychology, 3rd ed, Australasian ed, Pearson Education, French

Forest, NSW, Australia.

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