23 March 2010

A series of workshops organised by a UQ researcher are an important step in addressing a worrying decline in the teaching and learning of mathematics.

Associate Professor Diane Donovan, from UQ’s School of Mathematics and Physics, and colleagues have set out to address the problem of adequate numbers of competent tertiary educators in the mathematical sciences with the support of a grant awarded by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council.

"The decline in mathematical knowledge of high-school graduates, and the flow-on effect of low numbers of mathematics university graduates has been evident for some time," Dr Donovan said.

Her point-of-view is supported by the recently published Go8 Review of Education in Mathematics, Data Science and Quantitative Disciplines.

Worryingly, the review showed from 2001 to 2007, the number of students enrolled in a mathematics major in Australian universities fell by about 15 percent, the number of students taking advanced maths at high school fell by 27 per cent between 1995 and 2007, and that a positive attitude towards maths dropped by half between years four and eight.

The review also showed that in 2007, 40 percent of senior maths teachers did not have three years of university study in a climate where industry demand for mathematics and statistics graduates was predicted to grow by 3.5 percent a year until 2013.

"Queensland is particularly at risk of being unable to supply our schools and professions with properly trained mathematicians," Dr Donovan said.

"We hope the outcomes of this research will improve the teaching and learning outcomes of mathematical sciences that will in time produce better-trained mathematicians and in particular better-trained maths teachers at high schools."

The first of many workshops will be presented at The University of Queensland on September 30 and October 1 this year.

Registration is free for all AustMS members and the workshops will follow the 54th Annual Meeting of the Australian Mathematical Society at UQ in September.

The workshops will cover a range of topics for early- to mid- career academics and inspire experienced academics to use new ideas including strategies for use of technology, industry, assessment, lectures and tutorials.

The team aims to formalise the program in to an ongoing system of education and accreditation in the mathematical communities of practice.

"It is very rewarding to see the work of our team come together and to be delivering the first of many workshops," Dr Donovan said.

To register for the workshops, please visit www.austms.org.au/ALTC.

In addition to Dr Donovan, the team includes Dr Leigh Wood from Macquarie University; Professor Nalini Joshi, President of the Australian Mathematical Society (AustMS) from Sydney University; Dr Birgit Loch from the University of Southern Queensland; Professor Walter R. Bloom from Murdoch University; Matt Bower from Macquarie University; and Natalie Brown and Jane Skalicky from University of Tasmania.

Media: Dr Donovan (0407 6445 131 dmd@maths.uq.edu.au) or Lynelle Ross (3346 9935 or l.ross@smp.uq.edu.au).