INISSS: An Elder's View

We are indebted to the Mathematical Association of Victoria for keeping this history on their site from 1999 until 2008.

Joy Gillies, Elder, parent and Aboriginal Education Worker has been involved in INISSS from the beginning. In December 1999, as part of the project management team, she presented a paper at the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) annual conference. The following are excerpts from that paper.

Joy begins here by describing the responses to the introduction of the Task Centre Kit for Aboriginal Students which was provided, with professional development, to each participating school.

...Not that many people were so enthusiastic about (these) tasks at first. Many of the teachers stated that they had similar things already that they had tried at various stages of their maths programmes. One particular teacher said that he was sure that if they all went back to their store rooms at school they would find these things at the back of their cupboards...

See below for the importance of this task to the story.
Soma Cube Cameos: Task 105 and Task 161

Green Line
I was one person who was really impressed. Why? because each separate task came with Aboriginal emblems around the edges. These caught my eye and (it was explained) that they were designed by particular Aboriginal students from the Territory. This was enough for me to try them out on my Homework Centre children who ranged from the age of six to sixteen. Twenty children in all.

The children were really excited and wanted to play with all the tasks on the first night. This was really interesting because moving around from table to table and pair to pair you could see that most children were able to do the initial game or task...

But like all Aboriginal children, get them out, try out the initial task and move on to the next one. Remember though that these children were usually the most difficult from both the Primary and the High schools.

Later in her presentation Joy describes some of the individual successes she attributed to the involvement of her school, Smithton High School, in the project.
However I have been fortunate in as much that our school has seen the advantage of such a programme and also that we have been able to maintain the same people, namely Mr Richard Walker and Mr Brett Gale, Maths teachers, and myself for the whole programme. This has had an enormous benefit to our students and the results speak for themselves. My role at the school is also one of an AIDE, both with special needs children and in the classrooms. This is what I especially want to share with you. I have a special child, Shaun, who is classed as a category 'A' child. Shaun has very low muscle tone as well as learning problems. Up until last year he could not even light a match; a task we all take for granted.

Well the Soma Cube is in the task centre and it is made up of interlinking pieces of bright colours. I had the bright idea that it would help Shaun's hands to manipulate these together and he would enjoy playing with them whilst the other children did the actual maths task.

My breakthrough came two weeks later in a Woodwork and Design Class, this was a year eight class and the teacher was trying to explain to an ordinary class how he wanted them to draw a cube, showing all sides, side view, front view and top view. Well I nearly fell over, Shaun put up his hand and told the teacher that he knew how to do this as he had been doing this with Mrs. Gillies. He not only knew what he was talking about, Shaun managed, with a little help to actually achieve this drawing. I have to confess, I had to leave the room, this was the first time Shaun had been able to complete a task in design. These moments do not come often, but if you could have seen the grin from ear to ear on this child's face, I doubt that there would have been a dry eye. This has given Shaun confidence and an eagerness to go to his Woodwork classes, whereas before he did not like to go. Now he comes to me, every Monday morning before school, to see what we are going to make this fortnight.

You may be thinking, that this is very well for a disabled child, but what about the average children, well here once again at our school, in Mr Walker's class and I was fortunate enough to have been there, we have an Aboriginal lad, who is very excitable and rather difficult to actually get to sit down and pay attention. He is a year 10 student. This boy just loves space work in Maths and usually can work at these tasks but when it comes to coming back to actually writing up the results, he usually reverts to form.

However with these tasks, he has been able to not only complete them, but record his results and help other students. He has been on the lower end of the learning scale but with these tasks he has leapt forward. Mr Walker experienced a day when this child helped another child with the same ability and then he jumped up and went to one in the class at the top end of the learning scale who was having difficulty with this particular task. Well my boy insisted on showing the other how to do it and the more intelligent one did not want his help, even though he knew my boy knew how to do it.

This is what these tasks are able to do for my children and it makes me feel so proud because it relates to the other children that these are not only fun, but it gives the Aboriginal children a greater sense of pride, because of the Aboriginal drawings around the side. It tells them that these are being seen as valuable learning aids for all students and that they are a valuable part of this process.

In conclusion Joy states:
... I feel that if these tasks can give me an understanding of Maths that I did not have before, and give me the confidence to be able to pass this on to my children and also give me expertise to be able to help my peers that it can only be a benefit to all people in education.

... it is wonderful to be part of this programme because it has given us all the opportunity to work as equals, a team to work together and as a result of this we have made wonderful friendships and a feeling of pride knowing that we all have a common goal of improving ourselves and looking for the better ways of helping our young people.

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