For 15 years, beginning long before school-based use of the Internet, Michael Richards, a secondary mathematics teacher dedicated to using hands-on tasks in his classrooms, built a network which allowed like-minded teachers from across the country, and eventually from across the world, to communicate with each other about their inspirations, successes, frustrations and challenges.
Twice a year Michael produced a Problem Solving Task Centre Newsletter headed by the drawing opposite. The articles listed appeared in the October 1996 edition of the Newsletter.
In the geographical distance between their sources, one at the north and one at the south of the continent, they reflect the diversity Michael was able to gather around him. Over time, the Newsletter included articles from Task Centre teachers in England, New Zealand, Sweden and many other places and also had regular contributions from Curriculum Corporation.
It was the first international communication tool of Task Centre teachers and when the Mathematical Association of Victoria invited Andy Wain, another secondary teacher committed to using tasks, to be its first Web Master, Michael and Andy complemented each other's work supporting a strong core of teachers dedicated to an alternative approach to mathematics education.
Gunbalanya CEC is an Aboriginal community school in
Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. It has an enrolment of about 250 students
from pre-school to post-primary levels. It is also the 'hub' school
servicing 5 outstation schools. English is a second language for all
students. The school is not bilingual so English is the language of
instruction. Classes are not graded but the children are grouped according
to age levels.
- Aboriginal children traditionally learn by demonstration and
- By providing open ended tasks and removing the right/wrong type of
solutions, children are more likely to take a risk.
- Aboriginal childrens' learning takes place in an atmosphere of play
until they reach adulthood.
- For a variety of reasons including ESL issues, erratic attendance
and movement between schools, classes probably have a wider range of
ability groups than 'mainstream' schools.
- To provide an opportunity to reinforce the maths concepts that
teachers are introducing in the classroom.
- To introduce or suggest supportive activities that teachers may like
to use in their classes.
- To encourage maximum enjoyment in Mathematics.
The Activity Centre is in no way intended to replace good classroom
programs but rather to enhance and support the work of the class teacher.
I found a set of the '60 Maths Tasks for
Aboriginal schools' and thought this would make a great starting point.
However on closer inspection I found that these tasks still contained too
much language for our students to be able to use them independently. The
hunt was on! Activities were found from wide variety of sources and these
were then rewritten using as little language as possible.
|The task shown is a sample of those I have adapted.
games used include Snakes & Ladders (good for number recognition,
directional movement, one-to-one correspondence and counting on with the
younger students). Whole class simulations such as Crossing The River are also
- Activities are stored in individual bags which hang on a rack converted from an old mobile blackboard frame.
- Also used are commercially produced games - hence the term 'Activity' rather than 'Task' Centre.
- So far, half of each primary class works in the centre at each time.
- All children spend 45 minutes there each week.
- At the moment a limited number of activities per session (4 or 5) are chosen. Each activity is carefully explained and demonstrated before the students choose a task.
- I recently conducted an inservice for the Outstation Aboriginal Assessment teachers. I was pleased that these non-trained teachers were able to interpret and use the tasks.
Numbers 1 - 8
Place the numbers 1 to 8 in the spaces so that each sum is correct.
PROBLEMS & PROGRESS
- Childrens' perseverance has improved.
- A few children are now starting to actually attempt to read and
interpret a task for themselves.
- Free choice of tasks by the children is an issue.
- Activities for young children have been hard to come by.
- Attention spans are lengthening.
- Motivation seems high - children are keen to come to the centre.
- There is a lot of 'maths talk' happening throughout the sessions.
Children are talking about the tasks in their own language, developing
concepts and strategies which they translate into English to discuss
with the teachers.
I keep a card file to make anecdotal notes on 3 or 4
children each session. Another useful assessment tool has been the use of
peer teaching. At this time there has not been emphasis placed on student
I have asked teachers to provide written
feedback and the results have been very positive. This will be done at the
end of each term to ensure that planning fits the needs of the students.
It also allows input from all the staff so that the Activity Centre is
owned by the whole school community.
- To aim for more independent reading and interpretation of
- To encourage more recording of tasks.
- To continue to expand the range of activities available to students,
and to ensure all strands of the Maths curriculum are included.
The junior primary teachers in my schools have said that
they would like more tasks which are more suitable for their students but
I feel somewhat inadequate to provide them being a senior secondary
teacher in the main.
I certainly have enjoyed roving around the Task Centre site on the web
- is to be
congratulated on a great job! Several of the ideas I found there have been
added to our task centre already and more will follow.
The very last of the Country Areas Program which set up our Island task
Centre was spent buying the Pattern & Algebra Replacement Units from the
Task Centre Project. I am most impressed with these and think that having
a unit structure with support materials will encourage some of our
teachers who have been reluctant to use the tasks, to give it a go.
Follow this link to Task Centre Home page.