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The future of mathematics and science: Knowledge relationships and equitable participation

Final Activity Report Summary - MATHS/SCIENCE EQUITY (The future of mathematics and science: knowledge relationships and equitable participation)

Two related research studies have been conducted. In the first, schools that were particularly successful in encouraging students into mathematics and science A-levels were studied, with a particular focus on schools in challenging areas of England and schools that encouraged high numbers of girls. This showed that the more successful and equitable schools: (1) Taught mathematics / science as inquiry-based subjects, rather than subjects that required memorisation of procedures (2) Held high expectations for all students, and (3) Used methods to encourage a wide group of students, rather than only an elite few. The schools used ability grouping later and more flexibly than most schools in England, instead encouraging all students to high levels. All of these practices are supported by other research studies but are rarely enacted in schools.

In a second study I worked with government agencies to invite schools to move to a new teaching approach in mathematics, in which students work in mixed achievement groups with all students being encouraged to high levels (rather than only some students). A naturalist experiment was conducted - six schools used the new approach and each of the schools was matched with a similar school that taught traditionally. In a study of students' experiences, attitudes and achievements, in the different schools over the course of a year, it was shown that the new form of grouping and teaching prompted extremely positive changes in the classroom environment with many more students discussing mathematics and problem solving, even though the teachers had received minimal training and were in the first year of implementation. It also showed that the students who were engaged in a broader form of mathematics achieved at the same level on traditional tests of knowledge, with no reduction in their test taking performance. I am now working with other schools in England who are choosing to move to the new and more effective approach.

The findings of the research conducted during my time as a Marie-Curie chair have been communicated widely and at prestigious venues. These include BBC Radio 4, The Royal Institution, England; The Accademia dei Lincei, Rome (at the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the International Congress of Mathematics Instruction) and The National Council of Mathematics, Boston, Washington, and Minneapolis, USA. I have also worked with key policy makers in the UK, including The Prime Minister's advisors in 10 Downing Street, the Department for Children, Schools and Families; and the Committee for The Primary Review.

The results of the research have also appeared, or will appear, in some of the most prestigious academic journals in education, including the Oxford Review of Education, as well as a range of national newspapers in the UK, including The Times, The Telegraph and The Scotsman. A book containing the research results has also been published (Jo Boaler, The Elephant in the Classroom, 2009, Souvenir Press) and is soon to be translated into Swedish.

The chair holder has taught doctoral students at The University of Sussex (UK) as well as those from several other countries, including Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and The Baltic countries.