Rebekah Strang, from the School of Education and Professional Studies, received a 2018 Griffith Award for Excellence in Teaching for her intentional and reflective approach to teaching mathematics education to pre-service teachers, including through harnessing a range of technology enhanced learning approaches.
We asked Rebekah to tell us a bit more about her teaching practice and approaches to assessment and feedback.
What motivates and inspires you in your teaching?
Mathematics is a fundamental aspect of education and it is imperative that the students I teach learn how to teach mathematics in a fun and engaging manner. I aim to instil the passion that I have for mathematics in them and lead by example by striving for that ‘light bulb’ moment. The progression I see from students and how they reconstruct their perspectives with regards to mathematics is what motivates me.
How have teaching practices in your discipline changed with the introduction of new technologies, and how has technology changed the way you interact and engage with your students?
In my teaching practice students are provided a flipped classroom approach where the weekly lecture is presented online. Students can then access and review online teaching material at their own time before attending the on-campus workshop and tutorial. This way class time can be utilised in more meaningful learning activities involving group work, problems solving and discussion. Students are then effectively able to learn the content at home and have time to process that information before attending face to face classes.
Can you tell us about your approach to assessment and feedback?
Clear, informative, timely and relevant feedback is a critical element in the development of a student’s learning and inevitably shapes the learning that takes place. I aim to incorporate feedforward assessment by providing the opportunity for students to demonstrate their newly acquired knowledge of mathematical content by informally presenting their ideas to the class. I feel these opportunities are highly effective in consolidating student understanding and further works to nurture their confidence in a classroom environment and thus effectively prepares students for their upcoming teaching careers. I also provide a significant level of feedback to each student within all written assignments.
What have you learnt throughout your academic career about creating an engaging learning experience for students, and what have you learnt from experimenting with new approaches that didn’t quite work out?
My methods to engage students revolve around relating my university teaching to the ‘real world’ of school-based education and posing thought-provoking problem-solving questions, and utilising concrete materials in a hands-on manner to achieve this. This works to engage students and provides opportunities to use the resources that are available to them when teaching in the classroom. At times, teaching practice deviates from planning, however consistent reflection on my teaching practice is useful as often improvements can be implemented immediately.
Given it isn’t always easy to innovate within a learning and teaching context, what advice do you have for colleagues looking to try something new in their teaching?
Teaching is a discipline that is innovative, where new pedagogical approaches can be implemented. As such, I would encourage educators to undertake new approaches to learning and teaching and utilise reflection to validate such approaches. I would suggest persisting with an approach, and if deemed successful to refine and establish best teaching practice as this takes time.
What is something new you are looking forward to trying in your learning and teaching practice over the next year or so?
I am currently investigating the use of digital technology in the early years as part of my PhD research, specifically with regards to mathematics apps and how they support mathematics learning. I will use my findings in my university teaching. There will be specific mathematics apps I can demonstrate to the students to encourage pedagogical approaches relating to digital technology that may be particularly useful.
What advice do you have for educators looking to enhance their teaching practice?
I feel the most important aspect of teaching is getting to know the students personally, as this enables tailored pedagogical approaches to each cohort. Also, the first-year student experience is critical in laying the foundations for sustained academic growth and engagement and as such, it is important to support students and create a safe environment for them to engage with new content and experiment with new ideas. This fosters self-confident learners that are exposed to practical and authentic real-world teaching practice.