PMA - Primary Maths Association - PLD day

Thinking about Mathematics...

I had the privilege of attending the Primary Maths Association day a few weeks ago and what a great day it was.

I enjoyed taking part in three workshops and a keynote.
  • Where is Maths Going? (Keynote)
  • Counting Counts
  • Rich Tasks
  • Computational Thinking in the Maths Classroom
My takeaways and questions from the keynote are detailed below.  Watch out for future posts on the three workshops I attended.

Where is Maths Going?

Presented by Dr Fiona Ell
Photo of Treasure Map shared by Dr Fiona Ell during Keynote
I really enjoyed the future focused keynote looking at big ideas in mathematics teaching and learning in New Zealand and where we might be heading.  It was a timely reminder of what's important with regards to teaching maths and what we might have missed in the last few years with the focus seeming to be on Number only.  Dr Fiona Ell outlined research in a number of areas that show teachers that make the most difference.

She structured the keynote around a treasure map with destinations that we might visit and important signposts to consider on our journey.

Photo of Slide shared by Dr Fiona Ell during Keynote


  • In the past we've taught procedures and still do
  • When and where are procedures important for students to learn?
  • How much practice is needed with a procedure before it becomes part of a student's knowledge?
  • Procedures aren't the only thing students should be learning in mathematics

Changing Thinking
Photo of Slide shared by Dr Fiona Ell during Keynote

  • What makes changes to thinking?
  • How do students see their world?  
  • How do we know a student is ready to move on with their mathematics thinking?
  • If we're using a diagnostic test and it isn't clear where a student is, do we know how to change the question to give us enough information about that student?

Photo of Slide shared by Dr Fiona Ell during Keynote

Digital Technologies

  • The wave of digital technology available to students and teachers has increased dramatically 
  • Is Khan Academy and other technologies that teach through video the best way for students to learn about mathematics concepts?
  • If a video can teach a student do we as teachers need to be teaching the same concept?
  • Where does the teacher fit if we use these resources?
  • Students may have had access to digital tech at home, does this way of learning allow for logical thinking and engagement?

Computational Thinking

  • What is it and how do we define it?
  • The idea of an algorithm and how this differs and is the same as when we talk about algorithms in mathematics 
  • How this concept is rooted in mathematics and how it relates to problem solving
  • Making connections between mathematics and the new technology curriculum
Photo of Slide shared by Dr Fiona Ell during Keynote

Ability Grouping

  • Mounting evidence of problems associated with this
  • The issue of it becoming a self fulfilling prophecy - I'm in the lowest group so I'm not good at mathematics 
  • Expectations teachers have of students in each group
  • Are multi level groups the best option?  Is there a need for ability grouping in some situations?
Photo of Slide shared by Dr Fiona Ell during Keynote


  • What language are students getting about mathematics from the wider community - mainly at home?
  • Do we need to do more to shift towards a positive culture about mathematics away from the 'I wasn't good at mathematics as a child so it's okay that you're not good at it either'
  • What are the basics?  Have the changed?  How are they different to 'when I was at school' 
  • How do we move community away from 'I have no idea what they're doing to teach mathematics now'
Photo of Slide shared by Dr Fiona Ell during Keynote


  • Access - do all students have the same access to information, skills and knowledge?
  • Social Justice
  • Why do some remain as gatekeepers and prevent access to information, skills and knowledge? Have we not all moved away from the teacher as the fountain of all knowledge?
  • The need for students to have numeracy skills that will help them in everyday life.  How are we ensuring these skills are taught - do we need to change our focus?  Some students won't go on to study mathematics will they have access to the skills they need to function in society - financial literacy?

Photo of Slides shared by Dr Fiona Ell during Keynote

The Cities

  • Where are we going?
  • What changes have we had in our destinations?
  • How are we responding to those changes with regards to mathematics?

Conceptual Understanding

  • How do we ensure that all students reach their potential in mathematics? 
  • How do we open doors for students in mathematics - careers, life skills?
  • What does our ultimate level of engagement and participating look like?

Photo of Slides shared by Dr Fiona Ell during Keynote

The Signposts

  • What are the big ideas in mathematics and are we missing them with our current focus?
  • We need to make sure students have challenge and move from counting to additive to multiplicative stages
  • The need to ensure students understand that mistakes are okay and are part of learning 
  • What does it meant to know something?  What happens after we make a mistake or have a failure?  How are we encouraging effort?
  • The need to find heros and role models that our student groups can relate to 
  • How discussion around student responses in a mathematics lesson and sharing these with colleagues can lead to better understanding and growth for students 
  • Rather than putting all the focus on the learning intention and resources adding focus on how the students might respond and what we might do as teachers if they respond in a certain way
  • The importance of students knowing how the learn and what they do to learn something new
  • using self assessment 

Our Compass

  • What guides us through our journey?
  • Facets of practice
    • Valued outcomes - selection
    • Connection - life
    • Environment - supportive
    • Evidence - formative assessment 
    • Inquiry - PLD
    • Address inequities - speaking out, giving life chances removing the gatekeeper
The above are just some of the notes I took during the keynote that resonated with me.  I really enjoyed listening to this, it got me thinking and challenged a few assumptions I'd made about mathematics teaching.