Supporting the mathematics learning of children with Down syndrome

Acer Improving Learning

A new research project in Victoria, New South Wales and the ACT is supporting students with Down syndrome (DS) in learning mathematics.

The collaboration, led by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) through the ACER Foundation with Australian Catholic University (ACU) and Monash University, is funded by Gandel Foundation, one of Australia’s largest independent family philanthropic funds.

According to Gandel Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer, Vedran Drakulic, the philanthropic’s aim is to help build stronger and more inclusive communities through its grants. “This research project has the potential to enhance the learning and subsequent capability of children with DS,” Mr Drakulic said.

ACER Senior Research Fellow and project director Ray Peck said the research is indicating that, with appropriate support, children with DS can learn mathematics.

“This study will build on the previous research of Dr Rhonda Faragher from ACU and Associate Professor Barbara Clarke from Monash University. It will harness the experience and expertise of high quality teachers in inclusive settings to improve the mathematics education of children with DS,” said Mr Peck.

Dr Faragher said that, while the project is extending knowledge about the mathematics learning of children with DS, it is also delivering professional learning for teachers and teacher aides, as well as assessments that teachers can use in inclusive settings to identify the children’s skills, understandings and problem solving strategies in mathematics.

“We now know that the learning capability of children with DS is by no means as limited as once thought,” Dr Faragher said.

“Our research builds on one-to-one interviews with a range of children of various ages with DS. That research has revealed the different ways in which the children approach mathematical tasks and ways in which teachers and teacher aides, and parents can support them in their learning,” she said.

“The value of this research is that it supports children with DS in learning mathematics, which is crucial in terms of their future opportunities in work and life.”

Associate Professor Barbara Clarke from Monash University said the research depends on identifying teachers with relevant postgraduate qualifications who have experience in working with children in inclusive settings and are working with one or more children with DS.

“We are investigating how children with DS best learn mathematics but we are also investigating how teachers and teacher aides best manage that learning in inclusive classrooms. The research depends fundamentally on teachers and teacher aides as co-researchers,” Dr Clarke said.

Findings from the research project will be disseminated through the networks of Down Syndrome Australia, which will also assist in the development of a professional learning program based on the research. The project team acknowledges the support of Gandel Foundation and the ACER Foundation.