Head of Maths at Hawker College Erin Gallagher in the non traditional set up for a classroom where the teachers wander around the room and deal with the students one on one. Photo: Colleen Petch
Faced with declining numbers of Australian students succeeding in maths, one Canberra school has taken the extraordinary step of removing the subject from its timetable altogether.
Hawker College last year replaced formal maths classes with a flexible student-led study program integrating online learning and specially created work spaces.
Co-ordinator Erin Gallagher said the outdated ''pen and paper'' model had been replaced by year 11 and 12 students working one-on-one with teachers or in small groups to complete the curriculum at their own pace.
They are required to be in a learning common area for a minimum of two hours each week, scanning electronic barcodes to register their attendance.
''Some students struggled with the idea of doing things differently, which is understandable after studying 10 years of maths in a very particular way,'' she said. ''Our aim was to turn that on its head and identify the best way for them to learn.''
Recent international studies found Australian students ranked 18th in the world for study of maths, with declining numbers of boys and girls enrolling in the subject in the final years of high school. In 2010, only 18.8 per cent of young people studied maths, science or technology, below the international average of 26.4 per cent.
Ms Gallagher, president of the Canberra Mathematics Association, said the new approach made teaching maths fun again, using a special Hawker Maths website, YouTube videos and interactive software to engage students.
The website has had more than 16,000 visits, many from other ACT schools adopting the resources.
The school combined two classrooms to create the common space, with group work areas and a breakout room.
Ms Gallagher said parents welcomed the new program. ''If you talk to any of the staff involved, they will tell you that last year was very demanding and developing resources from scratch has been a lot of work,'' Ms Gallagher said.
''But we can see the amazing empowerment the new style has given the students and seeing them work together to answer a question or explain something is fantastic.''
She said Hawker principal Peter Sollis and other staff had shown the innovative program strong support and early signs of academic improvements were emerging.
''Teachers can pick up when a student is struggling more quickly and go back or reinforce knowledge with them individually,'' she said.
''When students are voluntarily spending extra time on maths, we know it's working as intended.''