Men­tors in­spire STEM ex­cel­lence

The Australian Education Reporter - - NEWS - EMMA DAVIES ACT

“If you’re think­ing about study­ing maths, try to ap­pre­ci­ate that it’s ab­stract and beau­ti­ful and that there’s a lot more to it than you can see.”

CAN­BERRA Girls Gram­mar School ( CGGS) Prin­ci­pal Anne Coutts is no stranger to STEM, coming from a sci­ence back­ground.

Once the sole fe­male sci­ence teacher in a pre­vi­ous school, she’s proud of CGGS’ pre­dom­i­nantly fe­male maths de­part­ment and the cul­ture within the school.

“We have very high lev­els of ex­pec­ta­tion, pas­sion­ate teach­ers, proven re­sults, great re­sources and lots of pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment for teach­ers,” Ms Coutts said.

And it’s work­ing, with stu­dent Rowena Sten­ing grad­u­at­ing last year af­ter scor­ing the high­est out of fe­male Year 12 stu­dents in the Aus­tralian Math­e­mat­ics Com­pe­ti­tion and win­ning the Ch­eryl Praeger Medal for fe­male ex­cel­lence in math­e­mat­ics in Aus­tralia.

“Rowena was in­trin­si­cally good at maths and worked re­ally hard, but we gave her time to men­tor oth­ers and to re­ally be a role model to the oth­ers which was just fan­tas­tic,” Ms Coutts said.

“Men­tor­ing has a twofold ef­fect. One that the older stu­dents are seen as role mod­els and the younger girls know that it can be done, and two, they get a dif­fer­ent take on it be­cause the stu­dent may ex­plain things in a dif­fer­ent way,” she said.

Ac­cord­ing to the 2017 Aus­tralian Math­e­mat­i­cal Sciences In­sti­tute (AMSI) Gen­der

Re­port 2017: Par­tic­i­pa­tion, Per­for­mance, and At­ti­tudes To­wards Math­e­mat­ics, in 2016 there

were 61 girls for every 100 boys study­ing ad­vanced math­e­mat­ics.

Statis­tics are im­prov­ing slowly, but the lack of fe­male stu­dents mean there will be fewer fe­male univer­sity stu­dents go­ing on be­come STEM pro­fes­sion­als, and even teach in schools.

“We’ve got stu­dents fail­ing to take it in se­nior years of sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion, fail­ing to take th­ese sub­jects in ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion and the thing that might make the dif­fer­ence to them is in­spi­ra­tional teach­ing in schools,” Ms Coutts said.

“That’s what I think the Chief Sci­en­tist means when he said in­spi­ra­tional teach­ing en­gages stu­dents and cap­tures their imag­i­na­tion and en­ables them to see that maths isn’t a dry sub­ject,” she said.

Ms Sten­ing agrees with this, stat­ing that in­spi­ra­tional teach­ers at CGGS en­cour­aged her to look be­yond the syl­labus and pur­sue av­enues of math­e­mat­ics that in­ter­ested her.

“I think is re­ally im­por­tant in sub­jects like this where it’s very hard to see the point in learn­ing it if you don’t en­joy it,” she said.

“If you’re think­ing about study­ing maths, try to ap­pre­ci­ate that it’s ab­stract and beau­ti­ful and that there’s a lot more to it than you can see.”

While part­ner­ships with uni­ver­si­ties and in­dus­try give stu­dents a glimpse into the real world ap­pli­ca­tions of math­e­mat­ics, Ms Coutts said if she was in charge of a co-ed school to­day with the cur­rent short­ages, she would be ac­tively look­ing to re­cruit fe­male maths teach­ers and fe­male sci­ence teach­ers; not only as role mod­els but to men­tor new grad­u­ate teach­ers and those teach­ing out-of-field.

“One of the things they’ve done in Eng­land is ac­tu­ally en­cour­age grad­u­ates in sci­ence and maths to ac­tu­ally give their time to two years of teach­ing,” Ms Coutts said.

“They give them a small amount of train­ing but th­ese grad­u­ates are ide­al­is­tic sci­ence and maths grad­u­ates and go into a school where there are es­tab­lished teacher men­tors and put fresh eyes and a fresh spin on the sub­ject from their re­cent study and ex­pe­ri­ence.”

“I thought it was an in­ter­est­ing ini­tia­tive to get some great grad­u­ates who wouldn’t have thought about com­mit­ting to a life of be­ing a teacher, just to dip their toe in the wa­ter,” she said.

Can­berra Girls Gram­mar School Prin­ci­pal Anne Coutts (left) and win­ner of the Ch­eryl Praeger Medal Rowena Sten­ing (right).

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