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A review of an inservice project for teachers of mathematics*

Neil Cranston**
John Dungan
Christine Grieve
* 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.


Introduction

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.

Method

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

Display 1

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:

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.

Over time, the Project appears to have become more closely aligned with the Years 1 to 10 Math ematics Syllabus.

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.

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:

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.

The MIP has also had an impact on participants in terms of professional development. Again, the impact varies considerably. In particular, the Project has:

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.

Some participants are involved to varying degrees in the further development of the Project within their region. This involvement includes:

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.

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:

Future Support Provisions

Participants indicated the following features as critical to the effective continuation of the Project in 1991:

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:

Key Issues for Consideration

The following key issues have been identified from the trial of this Project.

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.

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.

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).

To assist original MIP participants in the further development of the Project in 1991, the following forms of support would appear desirable:

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.

Conclusion

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.

Reference

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.

Bibliography

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.
URL: http://www.iier.org.au/qjer/qr7/cranston.html