Partnering for Capacity Building: An ACU & The Smith Family Initiative
At the beginning of the year, Dr Ann Gervasoni, Senior Lecturer in Mathematics Education at Australian Catholic University, met with Michelle Anderson of The Smith Family, to consider how pre-service education students could again support The Smith Family Learning for Life program in Ballarat. This conversation built upon a partnership that had been developing over the past 4 years.
The Learning for Life Program provides financially disadvantaged children with scholarships and a suite of interconnecting programs that provide personal and academic support. Dr Gervasoni saw the possibilities of this partnership, not only in providing opportunities for pre-service teachers to develop and enhance their pedagogical knowledge and skills related to Mathematics Education, but also to learn the value of engaging meaningfully with organisations that strive to build capacity within disadvantaged communities.
'Such participation in community beyond the campus is firmly embedded in the University's vision and mission,' Dr Gervasoni said.
The Ballarat Mathematics Project, forged by the partnership, involved 30 pre-service teachers enrolled in the elective unit, 'Numeracy in the Early Years' in developing individual learning plans in mathematics for primary school aged students, in developing and presenting workshops for parents, and in forming and running Maths Clubs. University classes for the unit focused on pre-service teachers developing the knowledge and skills necessary for undertaking these tasks, and an examination of the issues arising for learning and teaching. The success of the project so far, heralds an ongoing and beneficial partnership for all involved but especially for the students, both the pre-service teachers and their young 'Maths Buddies'!
Planning for Success
The Smith Family and ACU collaboratively planned the details of the unit before designating relevant aspects for delivery. It was agreed that The Smith Family would approach families in the Ballarat area to discuss the various aspects of the project and how it could be of benefit to their children in this important area of learning. ACU would assess the students and develop the Individual Learning Plans, design and deliver the Parent Workshop, and establish and run the Maths Clubs in association with the five schools and the Catholic Education Office in Ballarat. Resources would be pooled. The Smith Family funded the production of specific materials relating to the project, ACU providing access to its learning resources and facilities, and the CEO through the ASISTM Project, providing resources and refreshments for the Maths Clubs.
Individual Learning Plans
Parents were invited to nominate their child for participation in the development of Individual Learning Plans. The total number of participants for this aspect of the project was capped at thirty which enabled a one-to-one learning relationship between each pre-service teacher and student. Once all thirty positions were filled by The Smith Family, the next step was to begin the process of developing the learning plan based on the individual student's needs. Each student was assessed by a pre-service teacher using the Early Numeracy Interview which includes hands-on assessment tasks where students demonstrate mathematical understanding and preferred strategies for solving complex tasks. The responses were analysed to pinpoint the specific learning needs of the student. Based on the results of these analysed responses each pre-service teacher, in consultation with Dr Gervasoni, designed Individual Learning Plans in Mathematics for each of the participating students. The purpose of these plans is to assist teachers, parents and tutors to devise learning opportunities for the student, that build on and extend present knowledge and skills.
Workshops for Parents
The role of parents in successful learning by their children was acknowledged as paramount to the success of the project.
"To ensure successful mathematics learning, it is essential that parents identify themselves as partners in the education of their children."
It is with this in mind that we have offered a Parent Workshop to skill up parents to be more confident as learning partners,' said Michelle Anderson, Team Leader for The Smith Family's North West Country, Victoria. Pre-service teachers planned and presented a workshop for parents of the participating students. The workshop included a number of ideas about how to help their children learn mathematics in the home context. Many of the ideas demonstrated in the workshop, were games with a focus on mathematics. Parents were also given a brochure developed by the pre-service teachers and printed by The Smith Family. The purpose of the brochure was to sustain the learnings from the workshop, provide ideas, and to develop confidence in implementing these learnings and ideas at home. The parents involved expressed their appreciation for the support given to them in this often daunting task of helping their child learn mathematics.
Maths Club Every Night!
The project also included the establishment of three Maths Clubs. Five government and Catholic schools within Redan, Sebastopol and Delacombe - all disadvantaged areas of Ballarat were invited to participate, each readily agreed, and three schools were nominated to 'host' the clubs as an after school activity each Monday afternoon. Each ACU pre-service teacher works as a Maths Buddy for 2-3 students targeting a total of 60 students from the five primary schools. A specialised curriculum based on games was developed by the pre-service teachers, in consultation with Ann Gervasoni, specifically aimed at improving the confidence and knowledge of their young Maths Buddies. The impact of the clubs on student learning is yet to be tested, however there is strong evidence of a positive impact on students' attitude to learning as expressed by one club member: "I wish we could have Maths Club every night!" Indeed, the parents, teachers, children and pre-service teachers alike are thrilled with the positive and mutually beneficial benefits of the Maths Clubs for all involved.
The positive outcomes from the partnership between The Smith Family and ACU are reciprocal. The pre-service teachers have benefited greatly from the experience of working with children and parents. They have particularly appreciated the opportunity for their work and expertise to be put to direct use in the community, rather than working on hypothetical assignments and learning activities.