[ Contents Vol 7, 1991 ] [ QJER Home ]
A review of an inservice project for teachers of mathematics*
* This is an abridged version of an earlier report prepared on the Mathematics Inservice Project: The 1-10 Mathematics Inservice Project: A Study of Original Project Participants, Queensland Department of Education, 1990.
** Research Services, Queensland Department of Education.
The Years 1-10 Mathematics Inservice Project (MIP) is a teacher professional development initiative of the Queensland Department of Education. It has been operating since late 1988 and aims to develop and promote good teaching practices among teachers of mathematics. The Years 1 to 10 Mathematics Syllabus within Queensland schools provides the major impetus for the Project.
During late 1988 and 1989, the participants in the MIP included 30 practising primary and secondary school teachers, mathematics subject masters and administrators from six Brisbane and near Brisbane regions. The participants met for regular workshop sessions to explore and consider various issues relating to mathematics education. A Central Planning Group consisting of five mathematics consultants, including the Project Officer, gave overall direction to the Project. An overview of participants is provided in Display 1. A description of the Project as it developed during 1988 and 1989 as well as a report of early findings is provided in Cranston, Dungan and Grieve (1989).
Original participants met regularly throughout 1990 to continue their own professional development and to develop skills in order to assist in the professional development of other mathematics teachers in their schools and regions. Eight workshop sessions were held throughout 1990 to facilitate participants in implementing the Project within their regions. The Central Planning Group provided direction and support to these original participants. The MIP was implemented in the remaining Queensland regions under the guidance and direction of a regional coordinator for each region and the MIP Project Officer.
During 1990 then, the MIP was developed across two major fronts:
This report will focus on the major outcomes emerging in participants and their schools involved in the Project since late 1988 or individuals who have since replaced original participants. It reports on the activities of the MIP for this group up to the end of third term 1990.
- The Project continued in the six near-Brisbane regions involved during 1988 and 1989. Original MIP participants continued their involvement while other teachers from these regions were introduced to the Project.
- The MIP was extended in 1990 to include all regions in the State with MIP coordinators from each of these regions facilitating the development of the Project.
An external research and evaluation team has been monitoring the development of the MIP since early 1989 and continued their association with the Project in 1990.
During August and September 1990, two researchers consulted with all teachers and administrators who had participated in the MIP since late 1988. Where original participants had ceased their involvement in the Project, their replacements were consulted where possible. Discussions were held separately with each participant at his/her school during normal school hours. A total of 22 original MIP participants or their replacements were consulted. In addition, groups of students across Years 8, 9 and 10 were interviewed at one secondary school involved in the Project. Details concerning the number and professional status of original Project participants are contained in Display 1.
It is clear from Display 1 that several original participants of varying professional status have left the Project since its inception. These participants have not always been replaced.
Three of the original 15 schools involved in the MIP have withdrawn from the Project. In addition, only one third of all schools involved in the Project since late 1988 have the same two original participants continuing in 1990.
Display 1: Number of Original MIP Participants* by Professional Status
Background Data on Participants
Most Project participants are specialist mathematics teachers with more than 10 years teaching experience, and currently work in secondary schools. Only three participants are currently working in
primary schools. At least three of the secondary school participants have experience in primary schools. Few participants teach in other curriculum areas across the secondary school.
Few participants had been involved in any significant inservice programs prior to the MIP. Some have participated in Excellence in Teaching (ET), but almost all participants regard MIP as superior for various reasons (e.g. time to allow participants to change, ongoing nature of MIP, Project is not content driven, opportunity to share and discuss ideas with peers, support structures). One participant believes that the Early Literacy In-service Course (ELIC) is the best model of inservice for teachers as it incorporates a period of intensive instruction as well as some components similar to the MIP.
Participants are generally experienced classroom practitioners with limited previous inservice experience.
Participants' Perceptions of the Nature of the MIP
Participants have a range of perceptions regarding the essential nature of the Project. These perceptions include those relating to:
Participants' perceptions as to what the MIP is about range across:
- using investigations or the investigative approach within their mathematics teaching;
- encouraging students to be more responsible for their own learning;
- using group work;
- improving their skills in using the six teaching approaches of the Years 1 to 10 Mathematics Syllabus; and
- encouraging students and teachers to enjoy mathematics.
Participants' perceptions in relation to professional development and the MIP include:
It is clear that participants perceive the MIP in different ways. Furthermore, some participants have changed their views of the Project since 1989. For example, some participants perceive the focus has moved from an emphasis on investigations to a focus on professional development.
- encouraging them to reflect on their teaching practices;
- encouraging them to become more effective teachers in the classroom; and
- developing an appropriate model for teacher inservice and professional development.
Over time, the Project appears to have become more closely aligned with the Years 1 to 10 Math
Impact of the MIP
Several points need to be considered in reviewing the impact of this Project. Firstly, the Project means different things to different participants across schools and regions. Secondly, the project is still largely a trial in teacher professional development: outcomes emerging from the Project need to be interpreted within this context. Finally, it should be noted that the MIP is different in many ways from traditional inservice education programs offered to Queensland teachers. The MIP has not had a firm content message or focus like many other inservice programs (e.g. ELIC). Rather, the MIP focuses more on processes.
- participants' teaching practices
All participants have reported some changes to their teaching practices. However, the extent of the changes and the number of participants exhibiting the changes varies considerably. These changes have included:
- using less teacher-directed strategies in the classroom;
- using more physical resources in mathematics classes;
- using group and cooperative learning strategies;
- encouraging students to discuss and share ideas with each other;
- encouraging students to be more responsible for their own learning;
- encouraging students to be more questioning and active in their learning;
- attempting to develop alternative approaches to assessment;
- critically reviewing and in some instances, attempting to change work programs; and
- developing a heightened awareness and understanding of teaching and learning practices.
Participants have changed their teaching practices to varying degrees. Some have changed only minimally while others have embraced many of the changes noted above. Participants are generally restricting the use of the MIP approaches to mathematics whether or not they teach within other curriculum areas. However, participants do generally consider the MIP approaches to be widely applicable to other curriculum areas.
- participants' professional development
The MIP has also had an impact on participants in terms of professional development. Again, the impact varies considerably. In particular, the Project has:
- increased participants' confidence, skills and knowledge;
- enhanced participants' skills as inservice agents;
- provided participants with the skills and confidence to adopt leadership roles within their schools;
- developed participants' confidence in sharing and discussing ideas with colleagues; and
- influenced participants' thinking concerning their philosophy of education.
A significant impact of the MIP to date has been in terms of participants' enhanced professional development, e.g. confidence, developing skills as inservice agents.
- participants' involvement at regional level
Some participants are involved to varying degrees in the further development of the Project within their region. This involvement includes:
- membership of the regional Project planning group;
- coordinating and facilitating MIP sessions for new participants across the region; and
- working in classrooms with new Project participants from their own and other schools.
The level of involvement of participants in their regions varies from none to substantial. Generally, those participants who have been involved at a regional level have developed and/or consolidated a variety of skills (e.g. as inservice agents).
In secondary schools, participants are trying to apply MIP approaches mainly with students in Years 8, 9 and 10. Participants consider it more appropriate to begin using these approaches with Year 8 students, generally, due to various pressures at upper year levels (e.g. demands of the syllabus in Years 11 and 12). Some participants also believe that students need time to develop skills such as group process skills.
Most participants have indicated that students who have teachers who use MIP approaches are generally enjoying mathematics classes more so than previously.
To date, no firm conclusions can be drawn as to whether MIP approaches are more suitable for particular groups of students (e.g. in terms of ability level or gender).
Interviews and observations of students by the evaluators in schools involved in the MIP have been limited to date. However, there is some evidence to suggest that students may be gaining in some areas, particularly in learning how to work with each other. This finding could be explored in more detail in future studies.
To date, information on student outcomes is limited and based largely on participants' perceptions. Student outcomes would be a rich area for investigation in the future.
- impact at the school level
The MIP is being extended to varying degrees at participants' schools. Some participants have conducted extensive inservice within the school, while others have only minimally engaged in such activities.
Impact within secondary schools is generally restricted to teachers of mathematics and mainly to those directly involved in the Project.
Within some secondary schools involved in the Project, subject masters (SMs) in other curriculum areas are aware of the MIP to some extent. However, there is no evidence of SMs in other curriculum areas becoming involved in the Project in the school or adopting MIP approaches.
All administrators at participants' schools are aware of the MIP but their understanding and active involvement in the Project, generally, appears to be minimal.
The impact of the MIP to date at the school level appears limited mainly to MIP participants. Impact on teachers working in other curriculum areas seems to be at best minimal, particularly at the secondary school level.
Constraints to Further Project Development
Participants identified various constraints regarding the further development of the MIP:
- the effect on participants' classes of regular absences from school to attend MIP out-of -school sessions;
- the availability and continuity of supply teachers, particularly those able to teach mathematics;
- a range of matters related to time pressures:
- content of work programs to be completed;
- preparing lessons for supply teachers during absences;
- developing and organising resources for mathematics classes;
- time required to plan and undertake investigations; and
- impact on the content to be covered as a result of undertaking investigations;
- difficulties in developing appropriate assessment programs and practices reflecting MIP classroom processes;
- accountability issues both internal and external to the school (e.g. explaining the changed nature of mathematics and mathematics teaching to parents, requirements of BSSSS syllabuses and other credentialling factors);
- nature and allocation of mathematics classrooms in schools (e.g. setting up and maintaining suitable classroom arrangements for group work, access to resources and so on);
- teachers' attitude to change and other teacher characteristics such as philosophy of education and teaching experience;
- continuity of Project participants within schools and the resulting impact on the continuity of the Project;
- policy and philosophy of the participants' schools, particularly the schools' general attitude to change and innovations;
- differing interpretations of the Years 1 to 10 Mathematics Syllabus;
- timetabling practices of secondary schools and the associated constraints on the length of mathematics classes;
- demands on teachers in newly established schools and associated competing priorities; and
- demands on the school from a range of curriculum and other anticipated changes (e.g. HRE, foreign languages).
Future Support Provisions
Participants indicated the following features as critical to the effective continuation of the Project in 1991:
- continuation of the central meeti
ngs on a reduced basis;
- continued professional support from regional consultants involved in the MIP;
- continuation of some form of overall coordination of the MIP on a statewide basis;
- provision of teacher relief (TRS) and other support as necessary by regions and central office;
- wide commitment to the importance of this Project from schools - support from school administration is considered essential (i.e. principals, deputy principals, subject masters); and
- an indication of the Department's continued commitment to the Project, that is, an indication that this Project has legitimacy and status in the Department's priorities.
Some form of continued TRS support in 1991 to ensure the further growth of this Project appears essential.
Messages for Teacher Professional Development Programs
It is possible to draw some general implications from the MIP experience for other teacher professional development programs. These are that teacher professional development programs should:
- provide sufficient time for teachers to change - meaningful change takes time;
- be ongoing and continuous in nature - short, one-off sessions are not effective;
- provide teachers with regular and ongoing support - this embraces support of a professional nature (e.g. access to expertise, resources) as well as providing teachers the time to undertake the professional development activity;
- clearly communicate initial and changing program expectations for participants;
- identify and select participants in accord with specific criteria (i.e. in accord with program goals and objectives);
- address funding provisions above and beyond the normal 12 month budgetary cycle as appropriate, to assist program planning;
- be endorsed and advocated across all levels of the Department's operations (i.e. receive necessary support and promotion);
- enable and encourage teachers to adopt varying roles and responsibilities during the course of a program;
- identify strategies which will challenge teachers to examine their teaching and learning practices;
- allow participants to be actively engaged in the professional development process - participants should have ownership and control of their own professional development programs;
- encourage participants as much as possible to interact, share and discuss ideas with their colleagues, rather than have participants adopt passive roles during professional development programs;
- provide opportunities for teachers to be away from students and to reflect on their practices with colleagues in settings removed from their normal work environment; and
- be valued by the Department as part of the ongoing professional development of all teachers. This positive endorsement of teacher professional development should be communicated to the educational and wider community.
Key Issues for Consideration
The following key issues have been identified from the trial of this Project.
- selection of participants
A critical element in determining the impact of this Project has been the characteristics of the participants selected. This Project has had the greatest impact where participants:
Early success in terms of participants' enhanced teaching practices and professional development is more likely to occur if participants possess these characteristics. If the intention is to develop an initial nucleus of teachers with expertise to assist in the professional development of others, it would seem that these characteristics are important selection criteria.
- are risk-takers and innovators;
- are open to change;
- are willing to be challenged;
- are working in schools with few perceived constraints on their professional actions, particularly in terms of innovation;
- are working in schools with appropriate and adequate support from administrators (i.e. subject masters, principals, deputy principals);
- are receiving support from another colleague at their school who is also involved in the Project;
- have maintained involvement in the Project for a significant period of time; and
- have some prior teaching experience (i.e. more than two years).
The MIP resides under the umbrella of action-focused or action-learning approaches to teacher inservice education. Within these approaches, responsibility for professional development is clearly vested with individuals themselves. By and large, however, some MIP participants have still not accepted the Project as their own. In other words, it would seem that at this stage, original participants should be having more input and control over the specific nature and future directions of this Project.
It is clear that meaningful change for many teachers takes time and will therefore incur significant expense, particularly with time for meetings and reflection as vital elements in the change process. In short, the ongoing nature of the Project has been critical to its success.
- constraints which need to be addressed
There are many constraints which might hamper the further development of the Project within original participants' schools as outlined previously. Some of these constraints need to be addressed by individual schools (e.g. nature and allocation of mathematics classrooms), while others require consideration by groups external to the school (e.g. requirements of BSSSS syllabuses).
- future project support provisions
To assist original MIP participants in the further development of the Project in 1991, the following forms of support would appear desirable:
- continued professional support from regional mathematics consultants involved in the Project;
- some form of TRS support to allow participants to pursue areas of need and interest relating to the teaching of mathematics (e.g. allow participants to rewrite work programs, work with teachers in their classrooms);
- continuation of central meetings on a reduced basis (suggested number of meetings: one per term in 1991);
- publicity for key findings and major outcomes arising from the Project to date; and
- public support and endorsement of this Project by senior decision-makers within the Department.
The opportunity for teachers across the State to become involved in this Project raises questions of equity. While the Project is currently being implemented with other teachers across the State, the MIP still represents a significant professional development investment in terms of resources for a relatively small number of teachers working in State schools. It may be that the amount of money expended on the original Project participants since late 1988 to the present time is unparalleled in the history of teacher inservice education in Queensland. Exposure and access for larger numbers of teachers to similar professional development experiences and the resulting resource implications are important matters for consideration.
It is clear that original MIP participants have gained from their involvement in the Project in different ways and to varying degrees.
The information reported here indicates that a substantial impact of the MIP for the original MIP participants has been in terms of enhanced professional development. Moreover, all participants have reported changes in their teaching practices to varying degrees. The involvement of participants in developing the Project further across schools and regions varies considerably. Finally, a number of issues have also been identified in this report for consideration by those intending to extend the MIP or to implement other similar professional development projects in the future.
Cranston, N., Dungan, J. & Grieve, C. (1989), A Review of the 1-10 Mathematics Inservice Project: An Interim Report on an Innovation in Teacher Inservice Education.
Research Services, Division of Curriculum Services, Queensland: Department of Education.
Andrews, B. (1988), Some Exemplary Practices in Inservice Teacher Training and Development. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.
Dempster, N. (1989), Approaches to Inservice Education: Past and Present. Unicorn, 15, 92-95.
Ingvarson, L. (1987), Models of Inservice Education and their Implications for Professional Development Policy. In Anstey, M., Bull, G. & Postle, G. Inservice Education: Trends of the Past, Themes for the Future. Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education: Centre for Research and Development in Curriculum, School of Education.
Joyce, B. & Showers, B. (1982), The Coaching of Teaching. Educational Leadership, 40, 4-10.
Joyce, B. & Showers, B. (1989), Improving Inservice Training: The Messages of Research. Educational Leadership, 37, 379-385.
|Please cite as: Cranston, N., Dungan, J. and Grieve, C. (1991). A review of an inservice project for teachers of mathematics. Queensland Researcher, 7(1), 16-29. http://www.iier.org.au/qjer/qr7/cranston.html
[ Contents Vol 7, 1991 ] [ QJER Home ]
Created 22 July 2006. Last revision: 22 July 2006.