Maths Memos

BCME

 

The British Congress of Mathematics Education (BCME8) conference at Nottingham University was a great melting pot of ideas, debate and discussion. What a gathering of people with a passion for mathematics and a desire to see all  youngsters have high-quality experiences of learning mathematics. Central to that is the career-long professional learning opportunities that all teachers of mathematics have access to on a regular basis. The weather was sunny all week and the blossom trees looked lovely. We need professional learning for all teachers of mathematics to blossom like this. ACME has a vision for 'the tree in blossom'. The conference was a great opportunity to debate how to take forward ACME's recommendations to realise that vision.

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As a young Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) said to me, 'just tell me what professional learning opportunities I need to get engaged with in order to progress in my career. I'm keen to develop yet bewildered by the 'mish mash' of opportunities on offer. Where should I put my energies?' Just think how he would be supported by national guidelines (ACME recommendation 1) that exemplified the journey of a teacher from novice to expert (Berliner 2004[1]), combined with ideas of relevant and appropriate professional development opportunities that could support his development.

As a provider of initial teacher education (ITE) said, ' how can we get our trainees to improve their subject knowledge? We are out of strategies. We have tried lots of things.' An interesting idea emerged about the impact of the schools that these trainees go out into for their teaching practice. These do not always model, support and encourage the best practice. An example where initial and continuing professional learning impact on each other in a very tangible way. Getting it right for schools could support ITE as well. What an energising thought!

In a research session we found ourselves debating strategies for getting research into the hands of teachers. (ACME recommendation 5).  Primary mathematics specialist teacher (MaST) graduates and students are used to engaging with research, yet are not always sure how to access it once they move beyond their university course. It emerged that the British Society for Research into Learning Mathematics (BSRLM) used to contribute a double page spread of research abstracts to the Association of Teachers of Mathematics (ATM) and the Mathematical Association (MA) magazines. This sounded like a creative idea that might be useful to consider again. It could be a creative way to make links into research. A new thought (to me at least)!

As we know, the Government is putting some money into the development of up to 30 Maths Hubs across the country to act as local centres for professional learning across schools, colleges and universities. In a session we debated whether these would benefit from having an agreed structure or be able to emerge with a unique structure shaped by local need and expertise. Following this session, Malcolm Swan gave the closing plenary. Part of his input was about the principles of high-quality problem solving that could usefully be embedded as a structure to underpin and support the new National Curriculum at secondary level. This would enable common principles to support students' mathematical development yet give much scope for flexibility and creativity in each school. This rang bells for me with ACME recommendation 1: national guidelines. In my head, I saw this as a parallel to Malcolm's principles yet for Maths Hubs. Agreed national guidelines would support and empower hubs to ensure that key principles were embedded in their structure and practice yet still leave significant space for local, personalised development. Inspiring!

ACME recommendation 6  talks about a professional development  kitemark for quality assurance. This element was much debated in the bar and over the dinner table as the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) Standard moves to a subscription model. Many felt that the subscription for individual consultants was high and would appreciate a lower fee. Perhaps there is something here about percentage of annual turnover? The wider issues debated were about value in the eyes of professional development users. How much do schools value professional development providers carrying this standard? Maybe there is some useful work to be done in showing schools the significance and value of the standard. How could this be developed? Raising the profile of the standard would be useful. Certainly we need a kitemark that carries credibility and value in the eyes of both professional development users and professional development providers if we are to quality assure the wide range of professional learning opportunities that are emerging in the current landscape.

So, a thought-provoking conference. Let's see what steps we can take over the next twelve months to further develop career-long powerful and effective professional learning opportunities for all teachers of mathematics. After all, it's making a difference that motivates us ....and students get one chance at a school journey. Let's do all we can to make it the best it can be. Here's to the ACME vision for professional learning blossoming! 

[1] Berliner (2004). Describing the Behavior and Documenting the Accomplishments of  Expert Teachers. Bulletin of Science Technology& Society, Vol.24, pp.200 - 212.  

Jennie Pennant is an ACME member and Primary PD LEAD at NRICH and Director of GrowLearning

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