Maths Hysteria – Dr Peggy Lynch

Turn out the light.....hide under your covers.... I’m about to tell you a very scary story..... There once was a little Irish lass named Peggy Lynch who loved maths. She loved maths so much she wanted to teach it to others. So she grew up and became a University Lecturer at the School of Education. Now she teaches school teachers to teach maths...... Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!! Why is the mere mention of mathematics enough to terrify some people? What happened to (some of) us in our formative years to make us blacklist maths for life? Did your maths teacher wear a safari suit with knee length ribbed socks and brown sandals? (Okay, maybe that was just me.) In any event, many of us have a love/hate relationship with maths. Yet, there are no two ways about it, we have to use mathematical skills in our everyday life. Maths is paramount to our survival: You’ve got a recipe for four people but you need to feed fifty. You’ve found a Zara skirt online priced at €50 but you’re paying $AUS and it’s also 38% off the already reduced sale price. The list of examples goes on. Maths is part of our lives whether we like it or not....so why not like it a bit more than not? School of Education’s researcher Dr Peggy Lynch aims to improve our children’s learning experience by providing school teachers with the tools they need to teach children in our nation’s classrooms. Peggy believes every child has the potential to enjoy learning maths and to understand why maths is relevant. Students who enjoy maths make well-rounded graduates and good problem solvers. In the workforce, every job requires some form of problem solving skills and these basic problem solving skills hark back to what we learned during our mathematical studies at school. It may surprise you to discover, many of our teachers currently teaching maths don’t actually have any mathteaching qualifications. These teachers are certainly qualified, but their strength may well be in Biology, for argument’s sake, and not maths. Suddenly these teachers find themselves lobbed into the auspicious role of ‘Maths Teacher for Years 10, 11 and 12’ because the resident maths guru rudely departed for the Bahamas, and now there’s no one else available to teach. (Peggy recalls one teacher who relayed to her, at a job interview for a teaching position she wasn’t even asked if she liked maths or if she had studied it. Suddenly she found herself teaching it!) What Peggy aims to do is to rectify this situation. She runs intensive programs for teachers who find themselves in this very position; she up-skills teachers so they can provide our children the best possible learning experience. The program is funded by DECD and is called ‘Teach SA’. As portrayed in the earlier ‘scary story’, Peggy didn’t intentionally become a teaching/maths lecturer. She initially saw herself studying Law, Psychology or Engineering. However, good ol’ dad’s love for numbers rubbed off at an early age; she was fed a steady diet of puzzles and games focussed on problem solving. Peggy fondly recalls during year 4, her father brought home a book about multiplication. She found something magical about the numbers and relished the immense sense of joy she felt when solving the equations. The eldest of four children, Peggy remembers subjecting her younger siblings to an in-house teaching regime: she would stand at her chalk board and pretend to teach whilst her siblings sat attentively at make-shift desks. Peggy’s teaching path was set from a very early age - whether she knew it or not.

There is an old saying: Those who can’t do, teach. Well, Peggy certainly can and does both. She has worked in the field, teaching maths to high school students whilst studying for her PhD. She knows how to relate to her University students (school teachers) because she has actually been one. She believes all education lecturers should have the opportunity to regularly return to the teaching workforce in order to maintain a firm grasp on the reality of the practice of teaching. Peggy is an active member of various professional maths associations providing a strong network of support to maths teachers. Involvement in these associations is another means of staying in touch with the people operating at ‘ground level’. Keeping connected is key to the success of Peggy’s ongoing research. Our politicians are constantly highlighting the need for Australian school students and University graduates to possess problem solving and analytical skills needed to contribute to the workforce. There is a strong sense our Asian neighbours possess these very graduate attributes. Peggy’s research aims to examine the successes of our Asian counterparts and to extract practical approaches to teaching that can be applied in Australia. Peggy is passionate about Australia’s indigenous population and the opportunities and access these people have to a strong maths education. Coming from an Irish culture, a country with a long and colourful history, Peggy sees opportunities for a much ‘younger’ country like Australia to quickly rectify gaps and bridge the learning divide for our indigenous population. Her research aims to provide these very opportunities. Think back to your years at school. Did your maths teacher seem passionate about the mathematical problems being posed to you? Did your teacher challenge you, stretch you, engage you and inspire you? If the answer is NO, then the question is: would it have made a difference if they did achieve these things? Do you think you would be more connected and engaged now when it comes to maths and problem solving? People who teach you have a huge impact on your perceived enjoyment of a subject. Peggy firmly believes that by changing the way we deliver our maths education, by making it more enjoyable and engaging, we can increase the skill-set of our next generation of graduates. We can send into our community strong confident people readily equipped to confront problem solving in everyday life. People who, upon hearing the word maths, don’t hide under the covers or run for the hills.... There was this other scary maths story: Why was 6 scared? Because 7, 8, 9. Words by Allayne Webster Faculty of the Professions The University of Adelaide, AUSTRALIA 5005 Ph : +61 8 8313 0225 Fax : +61 8 8313 4843 e-mail: allayne.webster@adelaide.edu.au

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