High schools in New South Wales are struggling to overhaul maths teaching

“In such cases, additional support through additional learning units… or external tutoring can be beneficial.”

The school’s head of mathematics, Phoebe Guirguis, said the new curriculum design would mean students had mastered core content and the additional pathways would “extend students as far along the learning continuum as possible, adapting their learning to their abilities.” .

At San Clemente High School near Newcastle, Grade 9 math classes will be offered in three levels in 2024: elementary, standard and senior. The school said standard level students in the HSC will have the opportunity to attempt advanced mathematics but will need additional support, such as from their extra-curricular mathematics program or an external tutor.

On the Central Coast, Green Point Christian College has told parents that a child’s performance in eighth grade will determine which grade they are placed in.

Eddie Woo, who leads the New South Wales Department of Education’s mathematics growth team, said the core section of the new curriculum had more content than the minimum content students are required to cover in the current curriculum, known as the 5.1 course.

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Woo said the core and pathway structure designed by the Curriculum Authority appears to hinder streaming. However, he said grouping students by ability is an effective way of teaching.

“I don’t feel bad about schools doing this, even though NESA’s intention was clearly not to introduce this structure,” he said.

Under the new curriculum, Woo said there will be a greater focus on the connections between concepts, rather than on learning math skills in isolation. New topics would be introduced for grades 9 and 10, including one on networks that occur in nature, such as a food chain.

“There are things in these curricula that people have never been taught,” he said.

“It is quite reasonable to say that we will introduce the curriculum in a phased manner, maintaining the basic structure of how we have been conducting classes with three levels.

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“It is neither easy nor straightforward to implement the new curriculum and there will be a lot of experimentation involved.”

Ben Zunica, a lecturer in mathematics education at the University of Sydney, said the majority of schools were streaming Year 9 and 10 mathematics lessons.

When discussing avenues in the new curriculum, he said it is possible to develop certain students while helping those who struggle in a classroom is harder than it looks.

“I’ve seen teachers do it well – it’s extra planning. We all know that teachers are under enormous time pressure. Is it reasonable to ask them to do this? Maybe not,” he said.

The mathematics curriculum for kindergarten through 2nd grade has already been introduced in schools.

The implementation of some other curricula has been delayed, but the mathematics curriculum for grades 3 to 10 will begin next year.

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Justin Scaccy

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