Mathematics is a “dynamic, sentient and exciting subject” that is not only important for the smart economy but “is crucially a part of human culture, life and society”.
By Dr Tony Hall
These are challenging but exciting and encouraging times for mathematics and applied mathematics education in Ireland.
The new Project Maths curriculum, methodologies and technologies will hopefully enhance learners’ engagement with mathematics in schools, and help to improve student enjoyment and exam performance in the subject.
The introduction of bonus points associated with Leaving Certificate higher level mathematics will also hopefully incentivise a greater number of students to study the subject at the higher level.
While there is no one single solution to make mathematics more attractive and accessible, the synergy of a number of these solutions has a good chance of producing the desired outcome.
In addition to curriculum innovations and the provision of incentives such as bonus points, there are several notable developments taking place nationally at tertiary level in mathematics education and teaching.
The excellent and comprehensive Engineers Ireland Report of Task Force on Education of Mathematics and Science at Second Level summarizes well a number of these developments:
“The University of Limerick opened its National Centre for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and Learning in June 2009. “NUI Maynooth offers a MSc in Mathematics and Education together with the University of Cambridge, aimed at current teachers of Mathematics who have not studied the subject to degree level. Similarly, DCU offers a BSc in Science and Mathematics Education and has also introduced a PhD in the area of Science and Mathematics. These courses, designed to equip graduates with the necessary skills to expertly teach Mathematics (and Science), as well as up-skilling existing teachers could prove to be excellent national scaffolding for the new ‘Projects Maths’” (2010: 11).
The Engineers Ireland report also discusses the B.A. Mathematics and Education at NUI Galway, a four-year undergraduate, concurrent teacher education degree in mathematics and applied mathematics.
The B.A. Mathematics and Education (NFQ Level 8 (honours)) is offered collaboratively by the School of Education and the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Applied Mathematics, NUI Galway.
The programme - which enrolled its first students in September 2008 - will qualify graduates to teach mathematics and applied mathematics to honours Leaving Certificate level in post-primary schools.
The degree is unique in terms of its specialist focus on the mathematical sciences, and mathematics and applied mathematics pedagogies.
The teaching, learning and education-related research within the B.A. Mathematics and Education programme are based on the belief that mathematics is a dynamic, sentient and exciting subject that is foundationally important; whether in areas like engineering, economics, finance, computing, or in pure higher-order logic and reasoning, mathematics is not only an integral part of the ‘Knowledge/Smart Economy’, it is crucially a part of human culture, life and society.
The ethos of the B.A. programme is to support the development of mathematics and applied mathematics teachers who are passionate about their subjects; who understand their subjects deeply; and who can communicate them effectively to learners.
Furthermore, it is hoped graduates will develop a lifelong commitment to mathematics and applied mathematics; and collaborate with colleagues, the mathematics subject associations, and key stakeholders to advance mathematics and applied mathematics education in Ireland.
There is a strong focus within the B.A. Mathematics and Education on technology-enhanced learning. In 2009, the programme was awarded a Hewlett Packard Innovation in Education Award. This has provided second-year students in the programme with their own personal HP Tablet PC, equipped with mathematical simulation, visualisation, and typesetting software.
Students also participate in civic and community-based learning activities that help to contribute to their interpersonal development as educators, and to the development of mathematics and applied mathematics education in the local educational community: in schools and in collaboration with community partners, principally the St. James’ Conference of the Society of the Saint Vincent de Paul, Galway.
The B.A. Mathematics and Education, NUI Galway is organised on a modular, two-subject basis over four years:
Education, which consists of modules in: Educational Sciences; Professional Studies in Education; and Practical Teaching Programme/ Teaching Practice. Each area is progressively structured over the four years.
Mathematics, which consists of honours-level modules in mathematics and applied mathematics, including: skills of mathematics (analysis and algebra); skills of applied mathematics; geometry; probability; statistics; linear algebra; advanced calculus; modelling; complex variables; discrete mathematics; algebraic structures; theories of mathematical thinking; mathematics curriculum studies; and mathematical software and technologies.
The practical teaching programme also includes an Erasmus Intensive Programme, BEAM: Building European Identity through Spirit, Sense and Meaning. This entails a number of B.A. Mathematics and Education students spending two weeks during the second semester at the Pädagogische Hochschule Kärnten/Viktor Frankl Hochschule, Klagenfurt, Austria. BEAM III will take place from 24th April to the 8th May 2011 in Austria, with an expanded consortium of 12 European countries. A central theme of BEAM is the concept of the ‘European Teacher’, with the aim of building participants’ European identity and intercultural understanding.
The various innovative developments taking place nationally in mathematics education - including the B.A. Mathematics and Education - will hopefully help to realise new and exciting contexts for mathematics and applied mathematics education, with increased student uptake, engagement and enjoyment of mathematics and applied mathematics.
For further details and information about the B.A. Mathematics and Education, NUI Galway, please contact the Programme Directors:
Dr. Tony Hall is Head of the School of Education and Vice-Dean (Learning and Assessment) of the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Celtic Studies, NUI Galway. He teaches history, philosophy and technology of education on NUI Galway’s B.A. Mathematics and Education programme.
Engineers Ireland (2010) Report of Task Force on Education of Mathematics and Science at Second Level, Dublin: Engineers Ireland. Available at: www.engineersireland.ie/public/20100211-Mathematics_and_Science_at_Second_Level.pdf (Accessed: 10 November 2010).