The Wits Maths Connect Secondary (WMCS) Project is a research linked professional development project with the central goal of improving mathematics learning in school through professional development of teachers, and researching related processes and problems. This goal has been driven by persistent and enduring poor quality learning outcomes in mathematics in many of our schools in South Africa, and how these inform and are informed by research insights. Our specific aim is to impact Grade 8, 9 and 10 teachers’ mathematical knowledge for teaching and through this impact the quality of their learners’ learning. We focus on the key transition point in the secondary school (from Grade 9 to 10 mathematics) so as to increase the number of learners who succeed in Grade 9 and are able to continue with mathematics in the senior secondary school. A year-long mathematics for teaching course called Transition Maths 1 is our major intervention with teachers, that has impacted their learners’ learning gains. It has been supplemented with Lesson Study in schools, and an intervention with Subject Advisors in the Province.
Improving mathematics learning in school through professional development of teachers.
A necessary, but key research goal, has been to develop a framework for quality mathematics teaching, grounded in the realities of the conditions of teaching and learning mathematics in South Africa, and informed by research in the field. Key concepts are object of learning, exemplification, explanatory communication and learner participation, and the coherence and connections among and between these. The framework operates across the boundary of research and practice, and is so named. It informs our research on mathematics teaching, our practice in schools and in teacher education itself. The Mathematics Teaching Framework (MTF) informs how we teach mathematics to teachers, and how we communicate with teachers, key aspects of mathematics teaching quality in their schools. The analytic research framework, named Mathematics Discourse in Instruction (MDI), operationalises the key elements of teaching quality. The MDI/MTF framework for quality mathematics teaching is a living framework, developed iteratively across the research and practice in the project and over time.
The project team is led by Prof Craig Pournara who has extensive experience in pre-service and in-service mathematics teacher education and leads the Learning Gains research study and the professional development work. Also contributing to this work is an energetic team of full-time doctoral and post-doctoral fellows, and other post-graduate students all with expertise in secondary mathematics education and research.
Prof Jill Adler, former project director, and a leading researcher in mathematics education in South Africa and internationally is an advisor to the project and continues her work on the development of MDI/MTF.
The project is located in the Wits School of Education, University of the Witwatersrand, and funded by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and First Rand Foundation (FRF). It is administered by the South African National Research Foundation (NRF) within the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) framework.
We work in collaboration with the Gauteng Department of Education at both district and provincial level, supporting teachers from selected secondary schools, and with a focus on schools serving learners from low income communities. We have completed the second 5-year phase. In Phase 1 (2010 – 2014) we worked intensely with teachers from ten selected secondary schools in one district in Gauteng. In Phase 2 (2015 – 2019), we extended our reach to teachers in 80+ schools across seven of the fifteen educational districts in Gauteng, and to Subject Facilitators from all fifteen districts.