BA in Maths and Education
(Grace Gilmore from Cregmore National School, Claregalway, Co. Galway; Martin Hynes from Corrandrum National School, Annaghdown, Co. Galway; and Aideen Raftery, a third-year Maths and Education student at NUI Galway.)
In the aftermath of yet another crop of Leaving Cert results that show, as a nation, we’re slipping further behind on the scale of maths and science education, a group of Galway students have taken it upon themselves to nurture the next generation of mathematicians at a special summer camp. Final-year students of the BA in Maths and Education at NUI Galway have spent the past week with a group of 24 primary school pupils who are about to begin secondary school over the coming weeks.
The Stepping Up programme is a week-long enrichment programme designed to help prepare students for the changes associated with the move to secondary school. By taking an interactive and fun approach to both maths and school-related social issues, the team of nine undergrad students have been working to improve the children’s maths skills in a fun way. They have also been helping the children become more at ease with the differences between primary and secondary school, through their education training, which runs in tandem with the maths element of their degree. Included in the daily schedule are two classes of maths every morning where areas such as algebra, geometry, probability and numbers are covered. The afternoon sessions comprise study skills, peer relations, dealing with exam stress and student-teacher relationships.
In recent days the government’s chief scientific adviser Prof Patrick Cunningham has raised major concerns over the poor standard of results in maths and science subjects in the Leaving Cert. He said that the country’s prospects and prosperity over the coming decade and generation were wholly dependent on creating an interest in and improving the standards of science and maths. With a failure rate of ten per cent at ordinary level and fewer students sitting higher-level maths, it’s obvious something needs to be done quickly to reverse the declining trend.
Another worrying development is the suggestion that as many as half of second-level maths teachers in Ireland are not qualified in the subject. While traditionally maths teachers have tended to be business or science graduates who have completed the H Dip in Education, NUI Galway is leading the way by offering the country’s first ever BA in Maths and Education programme. The programme has yet to produce its first crop of graduates, but 16 students who will begin a term of teaching practice this September in schools throughout the city and county will graduate in 12 months.
One such student is Ballymacward native Aideen Raftery, who has been one of the Number Crunchers team leading the recent Stepping Up camp. “I always wanted to be a maths teacher but I wouldn’t have been confident enough to do a pure maths degree,” she said. “The fact that the H Dip is included in the course makes it unique and obviously gives it an attractive spin on teaching. I’m very happy this is the route I have chosen as the education modules of the course are fantastic, like using props to bring initiative into the classroom. This summer camp has been an amazing experience because here we’ve been flying solo compared to our teaching practice where we’re under the supervision of a teacher. I’ve been surprised at the level of maths the kids have, their mental arithmetic has been A1 so hopefully their experience here this week will inspire them to keep it up.”
Students of the camp are equally enthusiastic about the initiative, which has given them a different approach to maths education. Martin Flynn, 13, from Cummer is about to begin First Year at Archbishop McHale College and is looking forward to putting into practice the many things he has learned at the camp. “I’ve had a good week, meeting people and learning about maths, which is my favourite subject,” he said. “I’m looking forward to starting secondary school next week and bringing what I’ve learned here into the classroom.”
Grace Gilmore, 12, from Cashla, Athenry has also enjoyed her experience at the camp. “My older brother was at a camp for first year secondary school students here in June and he had a brilliant time so when they held another camp for sixth class pupils I decided to go,” she said. “I really enjoyed the algebra and geometry and it’s been a great way of meeting new people so I’m looking forward to starting first year now in the next few weeks at the Pres in Athenry.”
Rachel Flood from Oranmore said the opportunity to complete a robot using co-ordinates on a computer was the highlight of her week at the camp. “I’m about to start first year at Calasanctius in Oranmore and it’s been great being here and having the teachers explain algebra really well. When I was in fourth class I was in the top five per cent of students in Ireland in maths so it’s always been my favourite subject.”
Dr Catherine Paolucci, NUI Galway Lecturer in Mathematics Education, who co-directs the BA programme, has been overseeing the week-long camp.“This is an excellent opportunity for students to explore a variety of real applications of mathematics and reinforce essential skills in preparation for advancing their mathematical knowledge in a new school environment,” she said. “There is a huge difference between primary and secondary mathematics, from the topics covered to the teaching approaches. The relaxed, fun approach of this programme will help encourage students to enjoy maths and look forward to their new schooling experience,” said Michael Kieran, another member of the Number Crunchers team. “It’s an exciting but nerve-racking time making the transition to secondary school; we want to encourage students to enjoy this process in a fun environment that interweaves maths education with social issues, which will help to alleviate any anxiety that students may feel.”
Copied as featured in The Tuam Herald
Copied as featured in The Tuam Herald