Student letters, November 2013

Teacher from previous post: “The children’s writing is all post assessment. I have had zero input to the writing and without exception they all poured their hearts out. This is what I have been working towards all year. The boys (and I don’t think it is peculiar to our school) rarely get excited about writing, so your presentation back in June has had, if somewhat belatedly, a follow-on effect on literacy as well as maths!!”

Fantastic progress in a classroom

Remember the Decile 1 school teacher who attended my NZEI presentation, whose pupils now wanted to do maths above anything else? Well, she got in touch again:

“Hi Audrey, I thought I would catch up with you and let you know how things have turned out in my room. I am astounded at the ongoing desire of ALL my students to do maths. If for any reason we have to miss out there is uproar!! I have attached the IKAN results for my students. I think you will agree it is an amazing document.”

(If you don’t know what IKAN is, go to and try one of the tests yourself!)

Well, my eyes nearly popped out. In April, before my presentation and after two years of input from a numeracy advisor, all students but one were working at Stage 4. In November, five months after their teacher adopted my approach to teaching maths, two-thirds of the class had raised their performance by as much as THREE stages. In each of the four domains, at least a quarter of the class were working at Stages 7 or 8, which is where they should be. And most importantly, the whole class has gone from hating maths to loving maths!


There has been no direct input from me. This was done quickly and easily by a teacher claiming to have no specialist knowledge of mathematics.

“I keep trying to get my head around this whole thing that has exploded in my room since June……. I think I hear your name mentioned most days! They keep asking will she come and see us?”

“Well, why not?” I thought. I was given such a warm welcome and they presented me with some truly touching letters they had written. I was treated to a great performance of McFly’s “Love Is Easy”; I’ve been do-do-doing ever since! I dedicate these modified lyrics to these amazing students:

“If this is maths,
Then maths is easy,
It’s the easiest thing to do,
If this is maths,
Then maths completes me,
Cause it feels like I’ve been missing you,
A simple equation,
With no complications,
To leave you confused,
If this is maths, maths, maths,
Hmm, it’s the easiest thing to do,
Do, do-do-do, do do…”

What have we Achieved?

We have a spat between our tertiary engineering schools and our secondary schools/NZQA. It’s time to bang some heads together.

Unfortunately, it’s true. I respect NCEA, but its structure does not support student achievement in algebra, and hence calculus, and recent revisions to NCEA standards have reduced the examinable content in these core topics. It’s a real concern because New Zealand desperately needs more science, technology and engineering.

On the other hand, the engineering schools should raise the bar if students attaining “Achieved” grades are under-prepared. The bar should never have been lowered in the first place! Every NCEA student wanting to continue with their studies should be aiming for “Merit” or higher.

But wait a minute. Secondary students are under-prepared for their studies too! PISA 2012 results are out and New Zealand’s rankings have plummeted (and not just in mathematics). It all starts at primary school…

New Zealand mathematics education is in trouble.

We need to turn things on their heads if we want to prepare school students adequately for tertiary study. The impetus must come from the top. University lecturers should influence what is taught in secondary schools, secondary school teachers should influence what is taught in primary schools. There needs to be a division of responsibility in designing a school mathematics curriculum. The mathematicians should determine the content, the educationists should determine how to deliver that content and ensure that teachers deliver it effectively.

This is my idea for a brighter future for maths education in New Zealand.

Dr Audrey Tan, Mathmo Consulting
December 2013