Reflections on AAMT’s ‘Why Maths’ Conference. July 2019

AAMT Conference Why Maths? Inspiration beyond the classroom

Thursday 25 July 2019.

The biennial AAMT conference was held in Brisbane during the second week of the school holidays. With approximately 300 teachers, academics and education specialists in attendance, the conversations centered around ‘why maths’, the theme of this years’ event. MAV consultants Danijela Draskovic, Jennifer Bowden and Ellen Corovic attended the three-day event while MAV CEO Peter Saffin popped along for a couple to days to learn, network and plan.

This year’s conference had a strong focus on the need for students to continue to study maths, particularly Methods and Specialist in order to open up future opportunities and to develop students’ ability to think logically. To emphasise this message, major presentations were held featuring a range of STEM industry professionals. They shared with us the types of specialised and technical work they participate in, along with the mathematics involved. Speakers included a CSIRO roboticist, FORD aerospace engineer, Bureau of Meteorology meteorologist and a mathematician from the National Measurement Institute.

Collectively, the key learning from these major presentations was that mathematics is the common language in which scientists communicate to one another. Further, the study of mathematics is key to developing students’ logical thinking processes. With the uncertainty in relation to future careers in this technology age, and with the rise in automation, one thing is becoming apparent; No longer will a university degree guarantee you a “job for life” but rather, having a solid skill set (including mathematics!) will pave the path to success. Some of the most desirable skills and capabilities lie at the core of mathematical reasoning, and so it becomes increasingly more important that our youth are fluent in mathematics, and can problem solve mathematically.

A second feature of this conference was the selection of Keynotes. Libby Foley shared a personal and reflective story about her, and her family’s, experiences working in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in far north Queensland. Her experience and research was shared, and it highlighted the powerful impact of connecting with students through home and family relationships.

Dr Alan Finkel presented as part of the closing session and highlighted that the need to study mathematics is not a new issue. Philosophers and mathematicians have described the importance of mathematics for thousands of years. Dr Finkel raised his concerns around the decline of students studying higher levels of mathematics. While he would like universities to routinely nominate prerequisites for entry into courses, particularly mathematics, at this stage his suggestion is that teachers should encourage students to study Specialist and Methods instead of going for easier options to increase their ATAR. These harder maths subjects will lay the foundations for future study, careers, and ultimately success.

From all our perspectives, the highlight of the conference was both the keynote and workshop held by Dr James Tanton. ‘Be human’ and ‘do something’ were Dr Tanton’s principles to approaching mathematics problems. Jen, Danijela and Ellen had an enormous amount of fun, awe and wonderment dividing polynomials with Dr Tanton. His simple principle of react and connect to mathematics in a human way, then to ‘do something’ was simultaneously empowering and invigorating.

Lastly, the MAV team appreciated the time to network and learn from their national peers. We have come home reinvigorated and focussed on our work. In addition to learning from others, the MAV team lead four sessions sharing MAV’s expertise with their colleagues.

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