Principal's Blog - 31 May 2018

29 May 2018

Dear members of the Marcellin College Family,

I recall with fondness and pride my days at primary school. I enjoyed most of my classes, but mostly I thrived in Mathematics classes. I was recognised for my competence in Maths by being placed in the top Maths class. My teacher was a fellow by the name of Mr. Rasmussen. He was a great teacher who displayed an obvious passion and knowledge for the subject and he taught in a way that made Maths fun and challenging at the same time. He did much to prepare me for what was to come in secondary school which enabled me to begin my secondary Maths career with confidence and skill for the Mathematical concepts which lay ahead.

I can still remember, however, the precise moment when all this confidence and skill deserted me. I was in Year 8 Maths class on a warm Autumn day having just returned to school after a week of illness. During my absence the teacher had introduced to the class the Mathematical concept and paradigm of Algebra. Suddenly there were no longer just numbers on a page which had always made sense to me. There were now letters too which seemed a very foreign idea. My teacher attempted to help me to catch up on the work I had missed but he had to keep moving forward with the curriculum and I felt myself slipping further and further behind my classmates. From this moment I struggled to understand what I was meant to do with these letters and numbers which were somehow connected to each other through a Mathematical formula which remained a mystery to me. More than this, my confidence in the subject which I had looked forward to attending was now severely dented. I failed test after test. Then before I could grasp what I considered the occult art of Algebra, we had move onto the next unit on a different topic and I was lost. For the next several years I did my best to keep up in Maths classes and managed to pass, but my confidence diminished as did my passion and enthusiasm for a subject I once loved. Perhaps you have similar stories to tell regarding your own educational journey.

Recently I visited a Year 8 Maths class here at Marcellin. As I came into the class I noticed that something was different. As I wandered around looking at the what the students were up to I observed that each student was doing different work. Some were engaged with the same Mathematical concept but at different stages of development, while others were working with other Mathematical constructs. The teacher was not instructing from the whiteboard at the front of the class but was moving among the students assisting individuals and small groups in their specific area of focus as a facilitator of learning.

What I was witnessing was a new way of teaching Maths at Marcellin – The Maths Pathways Program. This program was first introduced to Year 7 Maths students in 2017 and was introduced into the Year 8 program this year by our thoughtful and innovative Mathematics team under the guidance of the Maths Learning Leader Laura Fordham and supported by senior learning leaders at the College – most particularly, Andrew Bryson, Assistant Principal (Learning) and Elizabeth Sullivan, Head of Learning (7-9). I would also like to pay tribute to Sandra Hansen who was a great advocate and driver of this program at its inception. Through the development of Maths Pathways, students are now able to achieve more than a year’s worth of growth in Mathematics, unlike the traditional delivery of year-level curriculum. They are able to fill in gaps from primary school much quicker as diagnostic testing provides a clearer picture as to where students’ abilities lie as they start at Marcellin.

I asked a couple of boys in the room how they were finding this new style of learning and teaching. One boy told me that at times in the past he had been a bit bored in Maths because he wasn’t being challenged enough and wanted to move forward and learn new things more quickly. Now he was able to challenge himself by tackling new concepts at his own pace. Another boy told me that he liked the way the teacher worked with him and small groups on a topic until he understood what he was doing. Another too told me that in the past he had struggled with the fast pace of learning in the class and he was pleased that he could now focus on a unit at his own speed until he got it right before moving onto the next one. Sounds familiar!

In one way this is not a new concept at Marcellin. Our teachers understand the concept of differentiation. This is the idea that in every class there is a variety of learning styles and abilities and that it is the teacher’s role to recognise each students’ learning need and develop ways and approaches that attend to these different needs. Having said that, this is a new way of operating in a differentiated setting with a consistently applied program specifically designed to support each student to experience success from where they are at in their learning.

It brings me great joy and encouragement, considering my personal experience in Maths, that this program - The Maths Pathways Program -  is being initiated at Marcellin. It is our endeavour and objective that this systemic approach to differentiation will be one which will influence and enhance learning in all key learning areas over time. Perhaps, if this program had been around in that classroom on a warm Autumn day many years ago, my Maths journey might have taken a different path!

Mark Murphy