On the fast track to mathematics success

Issue: Volume 100, Number 14

Posted: 3 November 2021
Reference #: 1HAQwV

A timetabled programme at Tauranga Girls’ College offered to Year 9 and 10 students who are struggling with maths is helping boost students’ confidence and enjoyment while improving their learning and achievement.

Year 10 Fast Track maths student Tumangako works at the board.

Year 10 Fast Track maths student Tumangako works at the board.

Kate’s daughter was fizzing when she came home from school one recent afternoon. The Year 10 Tauranga Girls’ College student had just achieved one of her big goals in maths, a subject with which she has always struggled.

Kate says it’s all down to the school’s Fast Track maths class, which is embedded into the timetable at Tauranga Girls’ College.

“Whatever they’re doing in that class, they’re doing something right! It has been life-changing for my daughter,” says Kate.

“She’s gone from being super shy – someone who doesn’t like to put her hand up in class – to becoming really confident with maths and her learning in general. She’s come to understand that we all learn in different ways. She now realises that she has this incredible brain – it’s just that for some subjects she just needs things explained differently.”

Now her daughter has her sights set beyond attaining the basic numeracy credits for NCEA next year – opening the door to more possibilities.

What is Fast Track maths?

Fast Track maths is in its fourth year at Tauranga Girls’ College. It’s not a remedial class that students have to attend at lunchtime or after school; instead, it’s a timetabled, ‘teaching forward’ class, that covers the content ahead of their core maths class. Students can take it as one of their option classes, giving them an additional three hours of maths support to supplement their four hours of core maths.

Judith Somerville enjoyas seeing students like Bronwyn make progress in the Fast Track maths classes.

Judith Somerville enjoyas seeing students like Bronwyn make progress in the Fast Track maths classes.

Maths teacher Judith Somerville says they initially started the Fast Track programme because they noticed the remedial programme they were running was too focused on addressing gaps in the girls’ learning from many years ago.

“So they always felt like they were behind, never ahead. For Fast Track we concentrate on what they need to know for Year 9. We teach forward so the students are always learning the work before their normal core class and this just seems to open the door for them.”

Year 9 students are invited to join the class, based on referrals from their previous school or the results of their entry tests. There is also a Year 10 class. Students are given the opportunity to trial the class for two weeks. Judith says once students have a taste of the class, they inevitably want to stay.

Education Gazette was fortunate to witness a Fast Track class in action and it wasn’t hard to see its appeal. The vibe is participatory and relaxed; there is a sense that no question would be deemed too basic.

Judith confirms this. “It’s a smaller class. It’s upbeat. That’s how we play it. High five! It’s a bit more practical. The girls will come up to the board a lot more, ask more questions.

“Often, if you are not good at maths, and you’re working in a group, you are often the quietest one in the group. Whereas I find everyone’s a leader in here.”

There’s a focus on getting familiar with the vocabulary, and a chance to go over any concepts the students might be having difficulty understanding, so that they hit the ground running when they get to their core maths class. There’s also an emphasis on keeping the context authentic so that concepts resonate with the students.

“When I get to my core maths class I fit in more, I know what I’m doing,” says Lilly, Year 10. “This has helped me with maths a lot. I was really struggling, but now I’m where I need to be.”

Jess, Year 10, agrees. “That’s what’s good having this class, because by the time we get to our maths class, you’ve already seen all the work, so it makes it easier to understand. And then you can help other people in your maths class.”

“We’re really ahead in trigonometry,” adds Genevieve, also Year 10.

Gateway to NCEA

Linda Boubee-Hill is leader of learning for maths at Tauranga Girls’ College and says the Fast Track programme helps prepare students for NCEA.

Almost 100 percent of the school’s students obtain the ten numeracy credits needed for Level 1 and beyond. But the team have their sights set higher than that. Their goal is to get as many students from the Fast Track class achieving beyond the numeracy programme, and gaining achievement standards to help support their NCEA progression.

Year 10 is a pivotal year in students’ learning, says Judith. “Too often the way NCEA has worked, is that Year 10 is a door – it’s where you make choices about your NCEA pathway. And so we are opening that door. And it’s working.”

The Fast Track maths teaching team (L-R): Daya Louis, Judith Somerville, May Tran.

The Fast Track maths teaching team (L-R): Daya Louis, Judith Somerville, May Tran.

Confidence in learning

Not only is the programme having an impact on achievement, but it’s boosting students’ confidence and engagement with their learning, says Judith.

May Tran, who is also part of the Fast Track teaching team, agrees. “The students leave feeling a lot more confident in their ability to be able to do maths.

“And once the confidence is there, they actually start developing as a learner. So they start developing the confidence to ask questions, to say, ‘Oh, I don’t understand this, how does this work?’”

May, who is also a primary-trained maths teacher, says secondary school maths is very different from primary school maths, where students keep working on a concept until they have mastered it.

“The first thing that I tell my girls is, ‘Don’t hold on to that, this is totally new’. I think secondary school is the perfect opportunity to be promoting change in maths learning, because it’s a brand-new environment, a different school system, everything’s brand new.”

Year 9 student Charlotte is a good example of that.

“Last year, I kind of struggled with maths, but coming to Fast Track, it’s really helped me be more confident and I like my core class more now. Before Fast Track, I would try and avoid maths. It’s a lot easier now I know what I’m doing. Mrs Somerville explains it in a different way that’s easier to understand. In here you don’t really feel embarrassed to ask for help.”

Crushing stigma

“There is some stigma associated with not being good at maths, but I think we’re pretty good at crushing that,” says Daya Louis, who teaches the programme alongside Judith and May.

“I always word it as, ‘No, we just learn in different ways. And we found that this is what works for some people.’”

“I think we do quite a bit of work in that message,” agrees Judith. “When I contact parents to invite their daughter into Fast Track, we reinforce the message that this programme can help their daughter gain confidence.”

The team agrees that negative attitudes towards maths are usually developed over time, and parents are often the culprits.

“The parents will often say, ‘Oh, I could never do maths’. So we have tried to overcome that by having more contact with them. In the first term we had flashcards for the students to take home that they could use with their families,” says Judith.

Whānau engagement is an important part of Fast Track maths. The English department runs a similar programme – English Support – and the two departments invite parents and whānau to a fun night with kai and a chance to see what their daughters have been doing.

“I loved it last time, when one of the mothers said, ‘Oh I get it now!’” recalls Judith.

Vision and leadership

The Fast Track programme supports the work the school is undertaking as part of the Accelerating Learning in Mathematics Programme this year.

Judith feels the beauty of the Fast Track programme lies in its simplicity.

“It doesn’t feel like we’ve done some weird and wonderful numeracy thing. Everyone who sees it in action says, ‘It’s so simple!’”

She believes a big part of the programme’s success is down to Tauranga Girls’ College making the commitment to its priority learners by integrating it into the timetable and allocating three teachers to the programme.

“Because there’s three of us planning together, rather than it being just one person’s project, it’s become more embedded in the school and in our maths department. I have felt that support from the department and the school leadership all the way through.”

Principal Tara Kanji is always looking for ways to make learning more inclusive at Tauranga Girls' College.

Principal Tara Kanji is always looking for ways to make learning more inclusive at Tauranga Girls' College.

Principal Tara Kanji is a strong advocate for inclusive mainstream education and she looks critically at ways to ensure learning is inclusive at Tauranga Girls’ College.

“I challenged the effectiveness of having Fast Track as part of the timetable – and out came a whole lot of data about the difference that was being made, and particularly around confidence-building for young people.

“Empowering tomorrow’s women is about empowering their confidence, right? So if you can go in and feel better about your maths, because you’ve had a bit of a heads up, how do you put a weighting on the value of that right? I think that’s brilliant.”


Student kōrero

Charlotte, Year 10: “It gives me confidence with my maths. I feel more confident when I go into my normal class. The smaller group size is good. It helps me concentrate and learn and focus more.”

Sasha, Year 9: “I’m finding this Fast Track maths class really good for me. I struggle a lot with math. So, it’s just good that I get the extra support for class. I feel like I’m more confident, you know, because I feel like I’m ahead of everyone.”

Genevieve, Year 10: “When we went to class, they weren’t learning the same stuff as we were so we were already way ahead. I think it would be helpful to have it in other subjects, because you don’t just struggle with maths, you struggle with science too.”

Parent feedback

“Confidence in maths has grown immensely. She is more focused on her maths and makes a much larger attempt to understand things. Previously she would tell us, ‘I’m useless at maths, I can’t do it’ and would give up. This year we have seen none of that and she gets quite excited about it.” (Parent 1)

“She used to lack confidence with her maths; however, since going into Fast Track, she is showing so much more confidence in her own abilities. She never used to like maths and now she does! The open evening that was held recently was really useful and it would be great to see more of those happening so parents can gain a better understanding of how they can assist their daughters.” (Parent 2)

“She suddenly realised she had knowledge and was confident to participate in class and feel successful.” (Parent 3)

Year 10 Fast Track maths student Tumangako works at the board.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 11:11 AM, 3 November 2021

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