Inspiring a love of Mathematics in girls

Inspiring a love of Mathematics in girls

Our Senior School Mathematics Coordinator Ms Rebekah Johnson’s vision for Mathematics at Loreto Kirribilli is twofold – firstly, to continue to build on the strong uptake of Mathematics and STEM subjects, and secondly, to develop further transdisciplinary learning opportunities across faculties.

Ms Johnson acknowledges the importance of developing students who are willing to take risks in their learning, and willing to challenge themselves. “We do a really good job of making the students feel like strong, independent learners who are prepared to take risks.”

While she has observed the robust enthusiasm for Mathematics and STEM subjects at Loreto Kirribilli, she is still very aware of the gender imbalance more broadly.

“I’ve come from an all-boys' school, and I do think that girls are a lot more risk-averse.  As a society, we need to do more to break down those gender biases and barriers to subjects like high level mathematics and the physical sciences.”

One strategy Ms Johnson employs to inspire her students is to find real life, relevant applications for the Mathematics topics covered in class. “For example, when we were studying rates of change, which is a calculus topic, there's a beautiful unit of work where we look at keeping the volume in a plastic water bottle the same, but changing the dimensions of the surface area to reduce waste. The class was really enthusiastic about that problem solving exercise.”

Ms Johnson is also keen to further develop opportunities in the area of transdisciplinary learning.

“In Year 8 there is already a STEM unit of work based on driving. In Science, the students study forces and the experimental design process, and analyse the stopping distances of vehicles. In Mathematics, they study data and statistics, which is a really important skill, and then in the TAS lessons, they work towards putting together a pitch for an NRMA Competition.

“I was really happy with how it went this year. We moved straight into the TAS classes, and that gave the students a chance to learn Mathematics through a very different lens. I think that was a really good opportunity for them.”

Further inspired by our recent staff Professional Development Day with Emeritus Professor Louise McWhinnie, inaugural Dean of the new Faculty of Transdisciplinary Innovation at UTS, Ms Johnson is planning additional, meaningful and authentic transdisciplinary units of work.

“In Years 7- 9 we’re exploring the possibility of a Unit of Work with Drama and Mathematics. Something completely different! And in Year 9, the Science Department is going to lead a transdisciplinary unit on Biodiversity, where the students can demonstrate their understanding of the Science unit coupled with any other Key Learning Area of their choice. It's adding a real-world, practical element to what we study.

“Transdisciplinary is the way to go.”

Apart from her plans for the future of Mathematics, Ms Johnson is very much focused on inspiring her students with a love for the subject. “I would describe myself as really enthusiastic about the content itself. I value the discipline of Mathematics greatly and all of the facets bring me a lot of joy.”

Ms Johnson says she feels privileged to be leading the Mathematics Department. “It's such an amazing faculty. Honestly, every single teacher is passionate about the subject area, and they really care deeply about their students.

“In the end, we’re teaching students, not content. It’s the relationship we build with the students that is the most important thing.”