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The following is an edited abstract by Dr Lloyd Dawe, PLC Sydney’s Mathematician-in-Residence, who discusses how he undertakes fostering a growth mindset and realising the mathematical potential of girls in our schools. The article was recently published in The Australian Mathematics Teacher.

Dr Dawe’s paper provides examples of imaginative problem solving by girls gathered over a five year period, that has led to significant mathematical insight for both staff and students. It promotes the realisation of mathematical potential of students concurrently with the professional development of teachers. He argues that this best happens in mathematics classrooms with experienced mathematics educators working alongside teachers.

Contemporary knowledge of the field highlights the value of teaching partnerships in the development of student mathematical creativity and imagination. The classroom teachers know their students well, while the role of the experienced mathematics educator is to extend them, concentrating on the mathematics itself rather than pedagogy. In fact what the mathematician does, where they work, how knowledge is shared, and the unsolved problems they may be working on, also motivates and interests students.

Dr Dawe’s paper presented anecdotal evidence that teacher subject knowledge plays an important role in the development of students’ creative thinking in mathematics. Making the most of opportunities which arise in class, especially with students who show mathematical promise by their questions and imaginative work, is an important part of a teacher’s work. The evidence of the past five years at PLC Sydney, shows this can be facilitated in a working partnership with a mathematics educator, and/or professional people who use mathematics everyday in their work. Activities undertaken and planned together provide exciting opportunities to bring real-life mathematics into school classrooms and engage teachers and students with contemporary research, applications and careers.

The role of competitions in the enrichment program is very important. These are useful training experiences for students as well as excellent sources of investigation and follow up. The competitions enable growth through perseverance and higher mathematical thought. Staff also promote a 'growth mindset' and encourage learning from mistakes. Struggle and perseverance are a part of the process for all students.

In the particular case of girls, it was shown that a multi-discipline approach, taking into account their particular learning preferences, was strongly advocated to realise their potential and encourage the study of mathematics at the highest possible level, while at the same time enabling them to see the beauty inherent in its forms.

Through the enrichment program at PLC Sydney, the school has seen a substantial increase in student performance in the Australian Mathematics Competition and the Australian Intermediate Mathematical Olympiad.

PLC Sydney Mathematics Enrichment Program
At PLC Sydney, the enrichment program begins in the Junior School in Year 4. Secondary staff are allocated to teach alongside primary staff as a regular part of their teaching duties.
  • In Years 5, 6 and 7, students are mostly found in parallel classes, but there is a top class (intended for eventual acceleration) and a second class. The two top classes are the main target for the enrichment program in Year 7, which continues in Years 8 - 9.
  • In these years the top class is accelerated to complete the Years 8-10 coursework in two years, allowing eventual early completion of the Extension 1 HSC Mathematics in Year 11.
  • In Year 12 students may continue to choose mathematics at the highest Extension 2 level in preparation for university or just for the love of the subject. 

To find out about how to encourage girls to study Mathematics at the highest level: