The Australian Academy of Science’s Secret Backflip

Last April, the Australian Academy of Science made fools of themselves, by signing onto the idiotic and shadowy joint statement, Why Maths Must Change. Compounding the foolishness, it turned out that AAS was signed onto this nonsense statement by “educational/administrative people” and without the consultation of the AAS fellows. Then, in July, AAS came out with a tepid statement, walking away from the joint statement and walking towards nowhere. Finally, almost a year after this absurdity began, AAS has taken a sort of a stand. In a locked room. With the lights out.

Last month, AAS posted “a statement regarding proposed revisions to the Australian Curriculum for Mathematics” on their NCMS website. The statement begins with three paragraphs of motherhood and then, in the fourth and final paragraph, it says a little something:

The mathematical sciences decadal plan considers that “all young Australians need a strong foundational education in mathematics and statistics”. The Academy recognises the critical importance of foundational knowledge and skills, and strongly supports their inclusion and emphasis in the national mathematics curriculum. Additionally, it is important that students engage in reasoning and problem-solving. It is through these activities that students can meaningfully consolidate, apply and extend their understanding, knowledge and skills and gain an appreciation of the elegance and the power of mathematics. [emphasis added]

It’s not great, but at least there is a clear message about “foundational knowledge and skills”. There is also an implication of proper pedagogical order, that the reasoning and problem-solving come later, although AAS didn’t have quite enough sense to make this explicit.

One also has to ask, how did it take well nigh a year to come up with such an it’ll-have-to-do statement? And, while we’re asking, why is the statement on the NCMS site only, and not on the main AAS site? And, last question: why make such a statement and decline to tell anyone you’ve made it?

So, sure, the statement is welcome. But seriously, what a pack of clowns.

6 Replies to “The Australian Academy of Science’s Secret Backflip”

  1. I read this statement differently. “Additionally, it is important that students engage in reasoning and problem-solving.”

    Perhaps I am being pedantic, but I interpret this to mean that reasoning and problem solving are *in addition* to “foundational knowledge and skills”.

    It is obvious that one needs certain basic skills for reasoning and problem solving. But AAS states that “[i]t is through these activities that students can meaningfully consolidate, apply and extend their understanding, knowledge and skills and gain an appreciation of the elegance and the power of mathematics.”

    1. Terry, the AAS statement is a mess, but your objection, while probably valid, is unclear.

      Take it as a step at a time, and please do not assume any step is trivial. For example, you state as obvious that “one needs certain basic skills for reasoning and problem solving”. It is obvious to you and it is obvious to me. It is not obvious to ACARA nitwits or ASAS Education nitwits or AAMT nitwits or MERGA nitwits or MAV nitwits.

      I’m happy to hammer AAS, and I’m happy to argue the intended meaning of AAS’s statement. But none of this will make any sense unless you state clearly, step by step, your own view, and your view of AAS’s view.

  2. I fear you highlighted the wrong sentence. The one to be afraid of is the following: “Additionally, it is important that students engage in reasoning and problem-solving”. The problem here is that AAS think they know what education scientists mean by “reasoning and problem solving”: They think they’re talking about proofs and Polya. But they’re not. In Germany, we’ve been through that. Our current school books on mathematics do not contain any definitions or proofs. And here’s an example of mathematical reasoning. If the problem reads “show that 2 times 6 is greater than 10”, then what you do is this: 2 * 1 = 2, 2 * 2 = 4; the right hand side becomes bigger and bigger, hence it is reasonable to asume that 2*6 is indeed greater than 10. I wish I was making this up.

    1. Thanks, Franz. Trust me, I’m all too aware of the difference between problem solving and “problem solving”. That was, of course, the point of Tony Gardiner’s great article. As for AAS’s view of all this, that’s complicated, and schizophrenic. To put it briefly, there are definitely mathematicians within AAS who are well aware of the nonsense that ACARA-aligned nitwits, including such nitwits within AAS, are performing in the name of “problem-solving”.

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