Prompted by alarm over declining student participation in math in Australia, a new study out of Sydney finds that adults have to take a two-pronged approach to boosting student engagement: They should prevent students from “switching off” of maths (as they so quaintly refer to the subject in those parts) while helping those students “switch on.” That might sound redundant, but the authors of the study insist that the strategies are quite distinct.
The press release proclaims that the study “is the first to reveal that 'switching off' and 'switching on' to maths needs to be addressed in different ways.” To prevent students from switching off, schools and parents need to “reduce the negative attitudes to maths, such as anxiety and negative parental attitudes to maths." To get students to switch on, they should promote “positive attitudes” and build up children’s “self belief.” Sure, these strategies might be distinct, but aren’t they flip sides of the same coin?
I take a somewhat different message from release. If the Australians think they're doing poorly in math, what does that say about us? Australia ranked 15th on an international test of 15 year olds' math performance. The U.S. ranked 31st. If countries that are already leaving us in the dust are intent in improving their standing, it simply raises the bar for us here at home.