Introduction to the Northern Territory Manual

We are indebted to the Mathematical Association of Victoria for keeping this history on their site from 1998 until 2008.

Through 1993 many remote Northern Territory teachers, supported by a grant from the Disadvantaged Schools Component of the Department of Employment, Education and Training, developed and trialed many hands-on tasks. The kit they created and the professional development program that they recommended to accompany its introduction began our work supporting teachers of Indigenous students. The opening paragraphs from the original manual are recorded below to capture a sense of the intent of those pioneering teachers. Their advice is just as relevant today.

Welcome To The Adventure

The task centre resource which accompanies these notes, the workshop which explores the ways you can make best use of resource, and this handbook have grown out of your colleagues efforts to improve teaching and learning for Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory.

All aspects of the package have been selected by teachers and for teachers based on trial experiences and an extensive consultation process. They believe their classrooms have become better learning centres through both the flexibility and challenge of the material, and the opportunity they have had to review their teaching strategies.

Borders on the task cards were designed by children from
Neutral Junction and Milikapiti schools.

Green Line

This document records the chalkface wisdom of the bush teachers who have led the way. It is their intention that other teachers benefit from their efforts, yet, it is clear that it has been the struggle itself which has produced the changes. Therefore, this document makes no attempt to remove the need to make choices in your own situation. It illustrates choices others have made and something of the resulting consequences, so that you may take from it whatever guidance is appropriate.

The accompanying workshop has been designed to provide the time and stimulation which allow you to make your own choices about the use of material, and alterations to your teaching style, in a reasoned and reasonable manner. For the contributors to this project, making changes to their teaching has led to an exciting classroom adventure which continues day-by-day; sometimes with ease, sometimes with difficulty, and always with the rewards that show in children's satisfaction with learning. Their growth continues.

Aboriginal Students' Mathematical Experiences

Maths, to be taught effectively in any community, has to begin where the children are, with the language and the knowledge to which their developing conceptual view of the world is related. It must move with the children as they develop mathematical concepts in relevant and meaningful situations which are organised for them in such a way that further mathematical ideas emerge.

But how often do the words used in Aboriginal schools . . . particularly in maths lessons . . . evoke mental pictures or concepts that differ from those of children who grow up speaking English and with a conceptual view of the world related to the Western system of knowledge? What is perhaps even more alarming is that teachers are often unaware that this is happening and when the child fails to act intelligently in certain situations the teacher gives up trying to teach maths effectively and concentrates on teaching 'sums' at which Aboriginal children with their strong aural and visual memories gain some measure of success.
Can We Count on Maths?, p 135, Beth Graham, Living and Learning in an Aboriginal Community, 2nd edition, Northern Territory Department of Education

I will list . . . key ingredients of an effective teaching methodology for English language, culture and content in the remote Aboriginal context:
  • Make use of the teaching triangle . . . share an experience, that is, do something together; talk about it; then record it in some way.
  • Encourage academically purposeful learning. ... The three aspects of the cycle are that learners must have a consciously clear goal of what is to be learned; they must believe that they have individual control over the learning task in the sense that they are responsible for their own learning and that they can do it; and they must be able to accept and use teacher feedback positively.
Two Way Aboriginal Schooling, p 144 & 145, Stephen Harris, Aboriginal Studies Press

The use of a task centre resource can promote the effective teaching of mathematics in Aboriginal schools. The variety within the resource and the flexibility with which it can be used are consistent with Harris' suggestions. Both teacher and student are encouraged to engage with non-rote problem solving tasks. Experience in the trial schools has shown that when using this resource, students are in a better position to make use of their intelligence and teachers are in a better position to recognise that intelligence, and act on it to promote further learning.

Parent and Community Involvement

This promotion of better learning and teaching can be isolated within the classroom, or, more powerfully, can involve the whole community. Various schools have made use of the following techniques both in the classroom and in the community:
  • working in groups with a range of ability levels
  • poster problems - a whole class activity
  • working in pairs
  • working in the community at a prearranged venue - someone's house, store, etc.
  • inviting parents or relevant community groups to join the class, eg: housing team
  • allowing the students to take tasks home
  • finding opportunities to share with others, eg official visits, open nights/days
  • homework centres
  • starting a task competition in the local newspaper
  • starting the Family Maths program
  • developing a maths interest group in the community.

What is a Mathematics Task Centre?

Task centres are collections of individually housed mathematics problems which use concrete materials to solve, or make a start on, the problem.

Teachers testify that a Problem Solving Task Centre is a valuable resource in developing problem solving skills as it:

  • provides students with a variety of tasks to explore
  • provides poster problems for the teacher to use in whole class
  • situations to model various strategies and encourage the development of problem solving skills
  • provides 'a positive response to the use of mathematics as a tool in practical situations' (A National Statement on Mathematics for Australian Schools, p. 215 Curriculum Corporation)

A Problem Solving Task Centre kit can help a teacher make a positive start on the challenge of using problem solving to develop higher order thinking skills, without replacing the teacher or the professional relationship with students. Although task centres are only one of several resources for teaching/learning oriented towards problem solving, it has been found that they are a great 'kick start'. In the form provided as the Task Centre Kit for Aboriginal Schools, teachers have become enthused with their students' responses and looked with new eyes at other fruitful materials such as the MCTP Activity Banks. (MCTP Activity Banks Volumes 1 & 2, Curriculum Corporation)

The Development Process for Aboriginal Schools

Teachers from Aboriginal schools became aware of the existence of the task centre resource through various professional development programs. They recognised the potential of the resource and began a process of trial and review of existing Curriculum Corporation material to determine adaptations necessary for these remote schools. This process extended over almost two years in various schools throughout the Territory. It culminated in a writing conference attended by the teachers listed below. The material these teachers chose, adapted and created for the task cards and this book was then designed and published by Curriculum Corporation.

The contributors also realised that the project was not simply about producing print materials. The learning process which resulted in this material, expanded their approach to teaching in Aboriginal schools. The accompanying professional development course is their attempt to develop such changes among their colleagues in the Territory.


Jane Allan Ntaria
Darryl Orr Neutral Junction
Sue Bandias Milikapiti
Karen Palmer Numbulwar
Alan Hungerford Belyuen
Tamsin Roberts Areyonga
Carolyn Windy Areyonga
Jackie Johnson Darwin
Helen Southam Darwin
Trish Joy Darwin
Bruce Nulty Alice Springs
and several other Northern Territory teachers
over a period of two years.
Tribute is also paid to:
Charles Lovitt, Curriculum Corporation & Doug Williams, Consultant, Melbourne for their ability to co-ordinate and stimulate such a diverse and geographically isolated group of teachers.

The original professional development program has extended and refined over time and has become the Maths on the Move one day program titled Indigenous Students Working Mathematically.

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