More Digital Tools

The Federal Department of Education has just come out with a commissioned report: Research into Best Practice Models for the use of digital technologies in mathematics teaching and learning. There are four summary videos (no separate links) and one-pager summaries (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8), and the report itself. We’ve watched the videos and read the summaries and skimmed the Report, and we can’t be bothered. We can’t even bother WitCHing it. Readers may be interested, however, and may wish to comment.

34 Replies to “More Digital Tools”

  1. I’m really interested to hear from other readers, but for me this report is woeful. Terribly disappointing. Essentially a mathematics education (not the discipline) own-goal.

  2. Despite it title, I failed to find any instances of *mathematics* “teaching and learning: the focus seems to be on managerial/bureaucratic matters. Anyone who hopes for discussion about effective use to teach specific chunks of *mathematics* may be deeply disappointed.

    1. Thanks, Tony. As I replied to Glen, I wasn’t disappointed, since I would have to have been appointed to begin with.

  3. I think it is useful to know that you can stretch the meaning of the word “model” to whatever you want. It adds the connotation of an ideal, as in a model lesson, and makes an arbitrary list seem so much more than it is.

  4. Anything with the title
    “Research into Best Practice Models for the use of digital technologies in mathematics teaching and learning”
    is starting with a huge handicap.

    And that handicap gets greater when you read the Table of Contents and see sections starting with the words “Deep Dive …”

    And then you see dandolopartners
    was commissioned by the Australian Govt to “identify contemporary opportunities for the use of digital technologies in maths teaching and learning.”

    And then you see “We conducted interviews with system level stakeholders to gain an understanding of the key challenges facing maths teaching and learning, and the current state of technology use in maths classes. We spoke to stakeholders in state and territory departments of education, Catholic Dioceses, and Independent Schools.”

    At this stage your spider-sense is tingling that there’s gonna be a lot of froth and no beer.

    There’s the inevitable “Expert Panel of maths education researchers and innovators”. The panel looks about as expert as readers of this blog would anticipate. I see that Chris Matthews is on the panel.

    We read on (feeling like Bourke and Wills) …
    Apparently “It is clear that the use of digital tools in maths teaching and learning can make a
    substantial contribution to address the three key challenges that schools face in improving students’ maths performance.”
    Apparently “Digital technologies can improve maths teachers’ capacity by helping them to complete tasks more efficiently, allowing them to reallocate this time to higher value activities that are more likely to contribute to improved student performance. It can also reduce the overall burden on maths teachers, decreasing burnout and enabling them to operate at full capacity more often.”

    Deep diving further …
    “There is strong evidence that teacher quality is the most important in-school driver of student performance, including in maths and numeracy. The best-performing systems in the world emphasise teacher quality in three main areas: who becomes teachers (teacher selection and training), what they teach (curriculum) and how they teach it (teacher practice).”

    We interrupt this comment with breaking news – Water is wet.

    At this point I decided to stop reading. (Although I did skip to pp 116 – 121).

    If I had to make a prediction, I would predict the much the touted ‘Lesson plan library’ will continue to be touted.

    @Terry M: Work your way through this report and get danger hours for VIT re-registration.

  5. As an ex-bureaucrat who has commissioned these sorts of things himself, I make the following comments:
    . it’s just a standard vanilla Government report – it’s the way they do things. This looks good on the surface, so they’ll be happy with it (of course anything they weren’t happy with would have been removed from the draft)
    . the consultants are a sort of kpmg lite – part of a stable Govts reflexively use – each of the consultants would be on a salary far far higher than any teacher of course
    . it could not have been otherwise (when the maths assocs and unis etc all say technology is good – Government will believe them)
    . having spent almost an entire lecture with a visiting US academic who couldn’t elicit from a room full of bureaucrats (including me) to suggest that the best way to improve a cafe might be to actually ask the staff (rather than stakeholders etc etc), then that’s just the way things are done – you ask everyone except the people actually doing the work
    . advocating against technology is seen as reactionary (indeed I remember a fundamentalist uncle going on and on about how bad modern reading teaching was and phonics was the answer – only many years later to have phonics rebadged as Science of Reading and to have schools finally realise that the old way was indeed best). Ironically any time you talk to any parents, they very quickly get the need for times tables etc etc (although bamboozled by the potential role for technology).
    . there are very very few ex-teachers in Parliament (and not many in the Education Department, especially at senior levels) these days
    . it took me a little while of actually doing the job to realise just how little use technology is in the classroom
    . Advocating for rote learning and reducing the role of technology will be seen as conservative or reactionary. Perhaps one approach is to get Singapore education people to speak – Singapore seems to be very well regarded. Another is to rebadge such a campaign as the Science of Maths.

    It will take quite a while for the pendulum to swing back.

    1. Thanks, JJ. Two points/questions.

      1) *Everybody* says technology is good. How can the pendulum possibly swing back on that?

      2) You seem to be suggesting, as others have on this blog on other issues, that the teachers have been sidelined. What makes you think that, and what makes you think not sidelining the teachers will result in any saner policy? I don’t believe either.

      1. Thanks Marty
        1) Sorry my imprecision – the pendulum swing is more the rote learning (although computers have obviously been involved in that). My understanding is that when a technology arrives, there is incredible enthusiasm for anything it might do. It takes a while for what it is actually useful for to be understood.
        2) It is dangerous to glorify the past, but it is certainly true that our Government is now run very much by a generalist class of career politicians and managerial bureaucrats. That doctors currently run health departments is probably more due to COVID than anything else. (I worked there pre-COVID and there were very very few doctors in there). It is very unlikely that there are many teachers in the education department and certainly not running it. Involving people with skin in the game about decisions affecting them is unlikely to be harmful and while there are never clear solutions to messy political problems, it is unlikely to harm our education system. Teachers are human too and subject to fads, but over time, more likely to reach some sort of sense than someone with no understanding at all is my guess.

        1. Thanks, JJ. I see your point now, and half agree. Maybe a third. I think there’s no question that education bureaucrats are insufficiently in touch with teachers when it comes to the insane administration piled upon teachers. On the other hand, when it comes to VCAA, teachers, or at least Inner Sanctum teachers, wield way too much power, and is a main reason why the organisation is so inept. I think it is way too optimistic of you to regard fad-led teachers as “unlikely to harm”.

          Below is what I wrote as capsule history on this. You may or may not agree.

          First, the political. Historically, for good and bad, Australian mathematics education was carefully controlled by education bureaucrats under the guidance of mathematicians. In the 1970s, teachers started to be given more autonomy. Also around that time, a fourth group, of education academics, was beginning to emerge as a force. Since then, and with varying overlaps and alliances, these four groups have tussled over the nature and control of mathematics education. All-out war broke out in the early 1990s, with the bureaucrats attempting to wrest control from the other three groups. The bureaucrats failed, but the downward slide was well underway. The power of education academics has continued to grow, and they are now much more closely wedded to the bureaucrats. ACARA’s current mathematics curriculum was very much the work of education academics, and the new curriculum even more so.

          The current domination of the mathematics curriculum, and teacher training, by education academics need not be bad, but it is because of the second, intertwined force. With mathematics education academics now in possession of their own world, they are generally much less connected than they once were to the world of mathematics; they are less adept at and less interested in it. This lack of mathematical expertise encourages and necessitates an emphasis on other, non-mathematical concerns, laying the fertile ground for constructivist obfuscation. Much more time is spent in apologising for and avoiding the difficulty of mathematics than is ever spent addressing that difficulty, or in demonstrating the beauty and the power that can result from proper effort. It is telling that not a single mathematics education academic has said a public word in opposition to ACARA’s draft curriculum or the approved redraft. They are made naked by their silence.

    2. Teachers on-the-ground were surveyed in this report, and unfortunately there are far too many teachers (and academics) willing to sing the praises of whatever technology they were forced to invent and/or use because of COVID as compared to the silent disagreeing mass.

      One might think that this is a COVID-related phenomenon, but the issue is deeper than that. People are very scared to raise their voices about anything seen as contrary to innovation or the “new way”. I should know, I was one of them!

        1. Three points.

          Glen wrote: “”People are very scared to raise their voices about anything seen as contrary to innovation or the “new way”. An excellent historical example in the UK was when “learning one’s tables” became taboo (in the 80s?): quite a number of primary teachers knew in their bones that this was nuts, but could not provide the necessary evidence; so they simply shut their classroom doors tight, taught kids their tables, and told them “not to tell”. It was brave, pathetic, and sad to see/hear. This trend had its roots in the Cockcroft report 1982, where we were told [with the first sentence in boldface]: “From all the studies the weight of evidence is strong that the use of calculators has not produced any adverse effect on basic computational ability. We believe that this is important and should be better known both to teachers and to the public at large.” (The evidence was omitted, and one suspects was rather more ambiguous than claimed.)

          JJ wrote: “when a technology arrives, there is incredible enthusiasm for anything it might do. It takes a while for what it is actually useful for to be understood.” The enthusiasm is partly professional – and understandable. But there is also a powerful lobby (and funding) from the technology firms: it all sounds like “the future”; and it soon comes with money, ideas, professional development, and resources attached. Politicians and school senior management do not know enough to discriminate between what is “actually useful” and what is not. And it soon becomes so messy that evidence/debate becomes a sideshow (as with the Conrad Wolfram “debate”).

          Marty wrote: “The power of education academics has continued to grow, and they are now much more closely wedded to the bureaucrats.” In the UK this seems to be a complicated (and rather sad) tale, that is linked to the previous point. Maths education (as a research discipline) has mushroomed since 1980. It has in some ways had its wings clipped by politics and the educational bureaucracy (since the mid 1990s).
          This trend was at first positive, but soon degenerated: unlike the researchers, the politicians/bureaucrats demanded measurable results (which sounded positive, except the things they found they could easily “measure” were almost always antithetical to learning maths, and made the teacher’s job more difficult. One of the constraints on researchers was the requirement for “research output”: and bureaucrats and the technology sector quickly learned to “help”, by providing funding – and then controlling the editing of the final reports (sometimes crassly; sometimes simply by dangling/withholding the prospect of future funding).

          1. Thanks very much, Tony. I don’t see any sign of clipped wings in Australia. I’ve also met *very* few primary teachers who regard the learning of multiplication tables as particularly valuable, let alone critical.

            The country is entirely nuts, and the obvious organisations, AAS and AustMS and AMSI and AMT, which should be screaming blue murder, are either “not my job” silent or are active collaborators.

          2. Hi Tony!

            You wrote: “…quite a number of primary teachers knew in their bones that this was nuts, but could not provide the necessary evidence; so they simply shut their classroom doors tight, taught kids their tables, and told them “not to tell”. It was brave, pathetic, and sad to see/hear. ”

            I do not know many teachers but this resonates with me. My son is 11, and currently in Year 5. Two of the teachers at his school did precisely what you say in this quote. They taught the times tables, because they know it is right. These teachers will never stand up and decry the way things are going, they will not try and affect the tide. But they can affect their own classroom.

            I should also say that at my son’s school there are more than two teachers. Some others embrace the new world order. These feel safe to speak loud and proud, and they will tut-tut anyone not towing the line.

            You are right, it is sad.

      1. @Glen: Re – “Teachers on-the-ground were surveyed in this report”.

        There were 90 “consultations” of “Maths teachers (public, Independent and Catholic schools)”. I haven’t thoroughly searched the document but:

        1) I don’t know what a “consultation” consisted of and whether the “consultation” was consistent across these “stakeholders”.

        2) I assume the 90 was across all states and territories (so an average of 11 “consultations” per state and territory).

        3) It is unclear whether there were 90 different teachers “consulted” or whether some teachers were “consulted” on more than one occasion.

        4) It is unclear whether the teachers were ‘clustered’, that is, several teachers were at the same school. If an average of 11 – possibly different – teachers across each state and territory were “consulted” and the teachers were ‘clustered’, possibly only 2 – 3 different schools in each state and territory were visited. ‘Clusters’ of teachers are hardly going to be independent. In Victoria it appears that two of those schools were Mount Waverley Secondary College and Haileybury Everywhere College. Haileybury has recently launched “Haileybury Pangea” ( ) – I do not consider its feedback particularly representative or unbiased. We note that the CEO of Haileybury (it’s too important to have a mere Principal) is Derek Scott, the same person who is chair of the acara board.

        5) It is unclear how the 90 “consultations” (schools) were chosen.

        There were also 9 “consultations” of “School leaders and teachers”. It is unclear whether this is a subset of the above and what position the “School leaders” held (apart from being “leaders”).

        So “Teachers on-the-ground were surveyed in this report” is true but ….

        As a possibly irrelevant side comment on the juxtaposition of ‘revolutionising learning with the golden bullet of technology’ and consultation with carefully chosen ‘stakeholders’:
        The great Ultranet ( ) debacle had its origins when “By 2005, the Labor government promised to build Ultranet: an online portal to “revolutionise learning” that was based on the model developed by the staff at Glen Waverley Secondary College.”

        1. Again, whether or not “teachers” were adequately consulted, you are both suggesting that wider consultation would have thrown up something different, and presumably better. Why do you believe that?

          1. I’m not suggesting that, because that would make them not *silent*.

            Why do I believe they exist? I’ve met a few at my son’s school, those who taught times tables and I congratulated them for it. They also happen to be the ones running the maths competitions, spelling bees, and other academic activities.

            I would have thought a similar number are at every school, so I just extrapolated. Maybe I’m wrong, it’s not like I’ve actually gone out to a number of schools to talk to teachers. But I suspect even if I did, as an outsider doing a survey, they’d probably hide the charts on the walls and tell me whatever they thought they should be telling me. Silent and invisible (and powerless).

          2. What I believe:
            a) the worst case scenario is that wider consultation would not have thrown up anything worse.
            b) the best case scenario is that wider consultation would have thrown up something better.

            (But what I was suggesting with my previous comment is that 90 “consultations” of “Maths teachers (public, Independent and Catholic schools)” is not nearly as impressive or influential as it might first appear)

            1. I don’t believe for a minute that the consultation was wide in any reasonable sense, so of course you have a point. But I truly believe that wider consultation would be even more depressing. As near as I can tell, the thinking of the silent majority is only slight less screwy than that of the noisy minority.

              1. That’s the second most depressing thing I’ve heard all week.
                Is your belief based on the fact that most teachers are sheep (lemmings might be more accurate)?

                1. My God. What was the *most* depressing thing?

                  My belief is based upon decades of talking to teachers and talking with teachers and observing teachers. It is reinforced by the idiocy of the main Australian media outlets, and the likelihood that most teachers are compliant consumers of the swill that these outlets produce.

        2. 90 teachers – “A discussion forum with 50 maths teachers from public, Independent and Catholic schools regarding their experience with different software products.
          ▪ Engagement and consultations with 40 teachers from the public, Catholic and Independent school sectors at a maths masterclass workshop run by the Teaching Excellence Program of the Victorian Academy of Teaching and Leadership and online discussion forum.” It would be a brave (‘courageous’ in Sir Humphrey’s parlance) teacher who spoke out!

          Marty’s point is relevant though based upon my reading of Facebook teacher groups. There is enthusiasm for this technology.

          What would have been far more interesting, far cheaper and far more rigorous but would never happen is to have funded some real research as to teachers’ perceptions on the ground. Would be a fantastic PhD.

          1. Thanks for digging deeper, JJ.

            ‘Courageous’ indeed. I think that hits the nail exactly on the head. The culture in education is truly pathetic – it actively discourages (and punishes) any opposition to the dominant paradigm. It is embarrassing to be a teacher.

            So of course no-one except the bravest (*) will voice dissent. And it’s compounded by our ‘leaders’ in education, guillable fools who happily guzzle by the gallon the kool-aid handed out by the so-called education ‘experts’ who want to maintain their irrelevant relevance and feel important.

            And these ‘leaders’ are scratching their blockheads wondering why there’s a teacher shortage!!

            Regarding Marty’s point – If true, then it’s natural selection in action. Australia is heading down the path where it will soon end up with exactly the pathetic education system and teachers it deserves. Teachers with superficial understanding of the subject content that can hide behind the technology crutch. That’s what these Facebook groups are enthusing about. Lazy teaching out of necessity.

            * Of course there are the very few teachers with the confidence and backing of their school to speak out. And there will always be the ‘mavericks’. And there are the very few who don’t give a toss about the tut-tutters and relish fighting idiots and morons.

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