Anne Newman's Other Life

I am sure we all have another life either now in current time or in the past: perhaps many different lives! My current life is very simple - I love my family and friends, I love my dog Aeroplane Indy who is a retired racing greyhound, I love my garden and all things to do with nature, I love my football team The Collingwood Magpies (Australian mapgies are of course my favourite birds), and I LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT ART.

But in the past - there was the time I flew the "Dreamliner" Aircraft!!

Anne dreaming of "flying" a Dreamliner aircraft

Of course images don't always tell all the truth!! Yes I did get to sit in the pilot seat in a real Dreamliner but the Captain had removed the key from the ignition!!!

Here is a collage showing my many styles of appearance!

Anne L to R: eating her favourite food, always likes to match the decor, being an Easter Bunny, travelling in the Southern Ocean looking for albatross, painter, gallery lover with the girls from the AnArt4Life team, honorary Sri Lankan, hippy from the 1970s, photographer, lover of motor bikes and not shown but - lover of horses and horse riding (but only in my youth!!).
In the past I did have another life and a very committed one at that: first I was a teacher of Years Prep to 3 in a tiny rural school in Central Victoria where yes it is true I authorised the cutting down of a pine plantation (owned by the school) to buy books for the children!! Later I went on to work with children experiencing learning problems which led me into being a lecturer in literacy and special education at the Australian Catholic University in Melbourne.
Anne Newman lecturing at Australian Catholic University

As part of this other life I became involved in research and through this I developed a diagnostic procedure to determine why children were failing at mathematical word problems and to my extreme surprise this procedure took off and continues today to be used world wide to help kids do better in mathematics. The procedure was based on two very basic beliefs I have always adhered to:

  1. If someone is having a problem in any shape or form - give them the chance to talk about it and to discuss the thinking that is going on in their mind.

  2. If someone is having a problem which involves multiple steps you can bet your bottom dollar that a problem with one of the steps will prevent the person progressing successfully to the other steps.

Basic common sense which I applied to mathematical word problems!

To me is was very obvious that if a child was getting the answers to word problems wrong there was a very good chance that they couldn't read all the essential words or for that matter understand what they meant. And at a more complicated level, there are children who can understand what to do just don't know how to do it - as occurs in mathematical word problems where understanding has to be transformed into a mathematical process.

And how much does this happen in life - where you know exactly what you have to do - just not how to do it!!

You will be asking yourself what has all of this got to do with an art blog other than to learn a little more about the Editor in Chief - which is me!

The AnArt4Life blog was the inspiration of my very good friend and Interwebs Wizard Matt Cameron who challenged me nearly 7 years ago to have a go at writing an art blog. You can see where this challenge ended up with many thanks to all the team who joined Matt and me along the way and who continue to support us in this adventure.

But back to my days as an educator. I was doing some work in a little school in the outer western suburbs of Melbourne and had given a class of Year 6 children some mathematical questions to answer.

In those days - before computers- we hand drew everything! I was originally trained as an Infant Teacher following the guidelines set down in the early years of the C20th by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori and we had to pass drawing as part of our course! If you couldn't decorate the chalkboard in an acceptable manner and write in perfect script print you failed!! You will see an example of my superb print script ability below! And no, I can't do it now - nowadays you can barely read my writing!!

Page from the test of mathematical ability designed by Anne Newman

Please look carefully at the test page shown above and note Question 18 because a child's reaction to this question confirmed that I was on the right track to diagnose failure in mathematics through different eyes and minds... literally!

I gave the original test (part of which you see above) to some Year 6 children and during the test a little fellow came up to me and said: Please Miss Newman... I don't understand this question...It says: "Which angels are right angels" ...I don't know what to do... Do you go by the wings on the back of the angels?"

And there you have it! A simple reading error completely confused this pupil who gave the wrong answer because he chose his answer based on whether the drawings of angles looked like angels or not!! I might add I was working in a school in the Catholic system!!

I went on over the next few years to do the research (helped by some wonderful secondary school student teachers who were trained in my diagnostic procuedure) into children's thinking whilst attempting to solve mathematical word problems. The results showed that in about 35% of the attempts to answer a mathematical problem the children couldn't read or understand the words well enough to progress to a stage where they could transform this knowledge into a mathematical process and of those who did know what to do, in a further 12% of their attempts they didn't know the required mathematical process. And so I was able to prove that in nearly 50% of students' attempts at mathematical word problems they don't arrive at a point in their thinking where they can have a go at the mathematical computations involved! I can tell you that this sent a shock wave through the mathematical teaching circles at the time. And to their credit they took on my research findings with great gusto!

From this period on at first within Australia and then worldwide teachers of mathematics (especially when this teaching involved children from a second language background) began to build into their teaching in mathematics an understanding of the words in the language of instruction.

But let's make this into a post about art!!! When doing my research which took place many years ago there were no computers to print the tests, illustrate the questions, draw the diagrams etc and so the original maths test I designed for the research was hand drawn by me as see above and here are a few more examples.

Example pages from Anne Newman's mathematical test in 1976

And even more amazing is that the diagrams and charts in my first thesis are drawn by hand - my hands!!

Hand drawn pages from Anne Newman's thesis: Performance on Written Mathematical Tasks by Sixth Grade Children in the Western Suburbs of Melbourne, 1976.

To conclude I want to share a little video which I am not responsible for as I left this field long ago but illustrates how art and learning (in this case to make better teachers of mathematics) are closely connected.

And tomorrow I am going to revisit some past posts the AnArt4Life team have written on the relationship between science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics.