June 2008 Profile
Numeracy through pictures
After 18 years teaching mathematics and 11 years advising teachers how to do the same, Kevin Hannah is still fascinated why some kids seem to understand mathematics and others don’t. “It’s a real challenge to find out where it went wrong. So I would ask the kids having trouble to draw a pretty picture” said Kevin. “They don’t expect this and they loosen up and provide something to look at that is a valuable prop”.
The essence of the numeracy projects is how to teach in a way that promotes “understanding rather than doing by rote” according to Kevin. “We’re looking for robust models that sustain mathematical ideas and encourage smart thinking with numbers for which algebra can be used as a shorthand. The algebra captures the thinking that already exists.”
Yorkshire born but educated at St Paul’s in Dunedin and Otago University, Kevin was always interested in mathematics. With no idea of his ultimate career path he decided to pursue a pure mathematics degree because he simply liked it. He graduated with an MSc which at that time was “as much as I wanted to achieve and as much as I could”, however it had also provided an opportunity to tutor undergraduate students which he had enjoyed and so he decided to give teaching “a go’. He never looked back.
In 1993 while teaching Rangiora High School, Kevin began studying for his Masters in Education in part to convert his experience into something more tangible and in part to challenge his teaching beliefs and practices. “I found it an affirmation of my practices” enthused Kevin. In 1995 he was seconded to NZQA to assist with qualifications training. “I was exposed to a fair whack of PD in mathematics over a short time but I found it enjoyable and an interesting area to work in”. A year later he moved to UC Education Plus to find it “the richest professional environment I’ve ever been in”.
Kevin’s passion for mathematics and its teaching remains undiminished. “I’m still getting new insights into the student engagement/disengagement process and these act as a powerful stimulus”. He’s been the National co-ordinator of the Secondary Numeracy Project since its inception in 2005 which has involved around 40% of all secondary schools to this point.
When Marg Wright stepped down from her leadership role in UC Education Plus, Kevin had the support of the numeracy team to take up the newly created position of Team Leader. According to Kevin there’s still plenty of challenges ahead in the numeracy/mathematics area. “Our challenge now is to build on the effective networks we’ve helped develop to this point and to continue our growth in understanding of effective mathematics teaching”.
Gardening helps him stay grounded from the twin demands of his National co-ordinator and Leader of UC ED Plus’ “Team Numeracy”. “I dig the garden and all that comes from it”, he concluded. Kevin can be contacted at email@example.com .