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  • 8/2/2019 Young Australian Indigenous Students



    4 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ... .. .. .. .. .. . . .. .. . . .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .ENGAGEMENT WITH MATHEMATICS


    APMC 15 (1) 2010

    I n 2008, we worked with a range ofschools to trial ideas that assistedyoung Indigenous students to engagewith mathematics as they enter the schoolenvironment. Th e schools were locatedin North Queensland and the Brisbanemetropolitan area. In three of the schools,all of the students were Indigenous. Theparticipants were in the Prep and Year 1classes. The project was designed to:

    take into account pedagogy thatsupports Indigenous students'learning;

    develop learning activities that fosterdeep understandings of mathematics;and

    enhance students' engagement withmathematical learning.

    This article highlights some key pedagogicalstrategies that assisted classroom teachers toimprove Indigenous students' understandingof mathematics, particularly in the areaof number. The paper is organised underthree main sections, namely, communicatingmathematics, representing mathematics,and early number. Each section begins witha brief summary of the research whichunderpinned the project, followed byexamples of learning activities used inthe projects, an d finally a discussion ofstudents' responses.

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  • 8/2/2019 Young Australian Indigenous Students


    Young Australian Indigenous Students: Engagement with Mathematics in the Early Years

    Communicating mathematics: Orallanguage - listening and explainingThe use of spoken language in school andthe types of interactions teachers utilise caneither advantage or disadvantage Indigenousstudents. Furthermore, the importance ofspoken language as the foundation for alllearning is often not fully recognised andmany young Indigenous students are no table to make a strong start in the earlyyears of schooling because the discourse oftheir family often does not match that ofthe school (Cairney, 2003). This mismatchof home and school language has beenshown to disadvantage Indigenous students'in terms of their achievements in literacyand numeracy in the long term (Dickinson,McCabe & Essex, 2006; MCEETIA, 2004).

    It is also well recognised that oralcommunication is dominant in the livesof Indigenous students and that theirexperiences with print and other literaciesis often limited. Patterns of classroominteractions have been shown to disadvantagesome students particularly that of teacherquestioning, because Indigenous studentsdo not commonly experience this typeof interaction at home or within theircommunity. Understanding and acceptingAboriginal English (AE) as a dialect ofspokenEnglish used by most Aboriginal and TorresStrait Islander people is vital, and knowingthat there are variations across particularcommunities is important (Haig, Konisberg& Collard, 2005). Although StandardAustralian English (SAE) is the discourse ofthe school, teachers need to create a bridgefor young Indigenous students between AEand SAE as they grapple with new language,new concepts and vocabulary presentedfor numeracy. The focus we took in theseclassrooms was, therefore, an oral approach,involving young Indigenous studentslistening to mathematical conversationsand explaining their understandingof mathematics in a supportive learningenvironment. With these young students, our

    aim was to develop the use of mathematicallanguage in a focussed play-based context.For example, describing numbers inmathematics entails relating their positionsto other numbers. This involves a veryspecific understanding of words such as"between," ~ ' n e x t to," "how far," "one morethan," "two less than." Many of the studentsinvolved in our project entered schoolwith little understanding of these types ofwords (Warren & deVries, 2009). Figure 1illustrates the type of hands-on activities usedin the classroom to assist students to beginto experiment with the use of positionallanguage as they described objects in a realworld context.

    Anyone for Breakfast?OveraIl activityStudents place the various breakfastitems in front of them. according to' thep()sitionallanguage used.Students wiU be: '.

    acting out positional languageaccording to the instructiongiven; matching theiteni's .position tolanguage.

    Language structure.o f sentences On the table, in frontoE you,place the plate: Beside your plate, putyoltl:' fork. Between your sausages, putanegg:

    Figure 1. Typical activity used for building positional language.

    APMC 15 (1) 2010 5PJn.ww

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    Warren & deVries

    As the project progressed, teachers foundthat the Indigenous students' willingness toengage in conversations about mathematicalcontexts increased. As their familiarity withthe language of mathematics increased,their "stories" about mathematical contextsalso became more complex. This increasedvocabulary also impacted on the types ofstories they shared in literacy blocks. Forexample, instead of simply saying, "The eggis on the plate," they were now sharing that,"The egg is in the middle of the plate. Besidethe egg there is a sausage, which has twochips on top of it."

    Representing mathematics:Kinaesthetic and visual strategiesRepresentations are essential to students'understanding of mathematics. They allowstudents to communicate mathematicalideas and understanding about concepts tothemselves and to others. For example, forstudents to become deeply knowledgeableabout number, they need to see numbersrepresented in a variety of ways: as a setof objects, as different lengths and areas,as bars on graphs, and as distances onnumber lines. Our approach was to use theserepresentations as we investigated numbersin a way that was hands on, visual andincorporated kinaesthetic learning (Warren,Young & deVries, 2008). Each representationbrought a new perspective to the conceptand a new set of mathematical language.Figures 2 and 3 shows two of the activitiesthat supported this approach

    Figure 2. Activity 1: Umbrellas on the number line.

    6 APMC 15 (1) 2010

    Figure 3. Activity 2: Placing eggs in cartons (ten frames).For Activity 1, students were given a

    cardboard umbrella shape with a numberon it. They were asked to "hang" theirumbrella on the skipping rope and sharehow they knew where the umbrella went.This activity supported the notion of numberas length-the length from the start of thestring to where the umbrella is placed. It alsoassisted the development of young students'understanding of proportion. The discussioncontinued to explore the idea of numbersbeing evenly spaced along the skipping rope.For Activity 2, students took turns to roll thedice and place plastic eggs in the carton. Th ecarton comprised 10 spaces in which to placethe eggs. With each turn, students were askedto create stories about the numbers of eggsin the carton. Students were encouraged toshare stories that included discussing howmany eggs were in the carton before they hadplaced their eggs, how many eggs were in thecarton after they had placed their eggs, andhow many more eggs they needed to maketen. A typical response to this activity was:"There are six eggs. We need four more tomake ten. I put two in. We now have eighteggs. We need two more."

    We also acknowledged that two keyrepresentations underpin mathematicalunderstanding and communicationthroughout all levels of mathematics; grids(graphical displays) and number lines.Unfortunately, in mathematics instruction,these have tended to be introduced tostudents in very formal contexts and taughtas an en d in themselves. It is important forstudents to represent their mathematicalideas in ways that make sense to them. Itis alsoimportant that they learn the conventionalforms of representations to facilitate their

  • 8/2/2019 Young Australian Indigenous Students


    Young Australian Indigenous Students: Engagement with Mathematics in the Early Years

    development of mathematical understandingand their communication with others aboutmathematical ideas.

    We introduced grids (see Figure 4) toyoung students as mats on the floor that werelarge enough for them to stand on physicallyand "be the numbers" themselves. Studentswere also encouraged to create patterns onthe grids that supported the exploration of theconventions of number charts, and create ba rgraphs. In past research (Warren & Cooper,2002) we have found that many studentsexperience difficulties with the structure ofthe hundreds board and examining diagonalpatterns (e.g., the patterns formed by themultiples of 3) on these boards. Figures 4and 5 illustrate two activities that were usedwith the grid.

    * t : , . *L ..* t : , ' t ) *t: , ' t )*t: , .* 6. 't) * :, Figure 4. Activity 3~ = = = = = = = = = : ; Patterning on the grid.

    Figure 5. Activity 4: Creating bar graphs on the floor mat.

    These activities are designed to allowyoung students to engage kinaestheticallyand visually with patterns on diagonals, thezigzag construction of the number board,

    and the construction of bar graphs beforeformalising the board in a number contextand a graphing context. Underpinning thisengagement was the continual emphasis onoral language, asking questions such as:

    What shape comes next? What shapes are between