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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

EDUC 2059 Studies in Mathematics Education 1 Student ID# 110136197

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

EDUC 2059 Studies in Mathematics Education 1 Student ID# 110136197

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.,

EDUC 2059 Studies in Mathematics Education 1 Student ID# 110136197

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).


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

EDUC 2059 Studies in Mathematics Education 1 Student ID# 110136197


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EDUC 2059 Studies in Mathematics Education 1 Student ID# 110136197