The upper secondary school mathematics curriculum in Western Australia from 1950-1998 : implementation and evaluation.
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The study upon which this thesis is based aimed, first of all, to document the history of mathematics curriculum change in Western Australia. Although curriculum development in mathematics in this State has been an ongoing process for at least two decades, the outcome of an extensive literature review conducted as part of the study revealed that only a cursory evaluation of the current upper school mathematics curriculum change process had ever been undertaken. Neither has any formal appraisal of the suitability or otherwise of the variety of new upper school mathematics courses introduced during the last decade ever been carried out.This study was designed to 'fill these gaps' by not only documenting the history of the change process, but also by seeking out teachers' and other educators' views about those curriculum and strategy changes as well as the views of the students who were so intimately involved in the process.Tertiary lecturers' perceptions regarding the mathematical preparedness of first year university students were also considered a relevant source of information in this quest to first, record the events that preceded the establishment of the current State mathematics curriculum, and second, record those events that occurred subsequently. Major reports which have influenced the direction of mathematics education were examined, and underlying didactical principles were identified to determine the origins of previous and current educational policy.To determine upper school mathematics teachers' attitudes to curriculum and strategy changes, and the impact of the present curriculum upon students' choice of mathematics subjects, use was made of a variety of instruments - questionnaires and interview proformas - which were used to interview students prior to questioning them on such matters as their reasons for selecting specific units.Upper school mathematics teachers were also surveyed and interviewed in order to obtain the practitioners' views on new topics which were introduced, such as complex numbers and vectors. Five of Western Australia's most high profile mathematics educators who played significant roles during the period of this study were interviewed to determine their recollections of major points of discussion and concern in mathematics education at that time. Feedback from these interviews was used to compile a questionnaire for upper high school mathematics teachers to determine their opinion on such issues as the introduction and practicality of the new courses, teaching and learning strategies introduced, and the degree of support for the new curriculum.Ten teachers were interviewed one year after the survey to determine any changes in their perceptions about the new upper school mathematics courses. By means of a questionnaire, students' reasons for choosing specific mathematics subjects in either Year 11 or 12, and their perceived success in mathematics in general were sought. In order to determine the effectiveness of the new curriculum in terms of further studies, students' level of mathematical preparedness was investigated by means of a questionnaire for university mathematics staff. The results of this research indicate that the most recent curriculum change in the upper high school has been successfully introduced by the Education Department of Western Australia, although this has not always been the case with curriculum change in this State.Though initially daunted by the number of new topics which were to be taught, teachers were appreciative of the in-service courses available, the resources present and the general support they received from the Education Department. Traditional teaching strategies, such as 'drill-and-practice' and teacher-centred environments have been largely replaced by a problem-solving and investigational approach to mathematics in a student-centred classroom environment. Clearly, the constructivist theory of learning has been a major influence on current teaching and learning strategies used in the upper school mathematics classroom. Teachers' opinions about the practicality of the new courses and approaches to teaching them were positive, though the view was held that previous traditional teaching methods should not be discarded.Specific weaknesses in the various mathematics courses introduced were identified (for example, inadequate attention paid to basic algebra and, in particular, to trigonometry), and many teachers were adamant that certain changes should be made for the benefit of the students (for example, reorganisation of parts of the course content). Improvements in the nature of the information provided to students at the time they make their upper school mathematics subject choice were strongly recommended. Information on influential factors regarding students' subject choices was obtained, and interviews with university mathematics staff showed that many first year students remain underprepared because of incorrect mathematics subject choices made in either Year 10 or 11.
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