This website is no longer being updated but remains for the convenience of users and as a matter of record

  What Works - The Work Program

Icon Note

‘Make it Count’: The Swan Valley Cluster, Perth

Professional learning for Education Assistants and Aboriginal and Islander Education Officers

Context | Background | Key messages



Moorditj Noongar Community College

The Swan Valley Cluster consists of Swan View Primary School and Moorditj Noongar Community College. Both are government schools, with enrolments between Kindergarten and Year 7, situated a few kilometres from Midland and about 25 kilometres from the centre of Perth.

Moorditj Noongar College was established ten years ago and has over 100 students, almost all of whom are Aboriginal. Swan View has over 400 students, of whom about 60 are Aboriginal.



Swan View Primary School

These schools have been involved with the ‘Make it Count’ project since its inception and their work has been documented by Chris Hurst from Curtin University and others, in ‘The Mathematics Needs of Urban Indigenous Primary Children: A Western Australian Snapshot’ (Hurst & Sparrow, 2010) and ‘Making a Difference for Indigenous Children’ (Hurst et al, 2011).

Both publications are available through the ‘Related Links’ at the right of this page.

Aboriginal and Islander Education Officers (AIEOs) and Education Assistants (EAs) from the Cluster were provided with three half-days of professional learning through ‘Make it Count’, and Hurst et al (2011, p.376) found four principal outcomes for the workers:


‘Make it Count’ manager Caty Morris

  • Improved levels of confidence;
  • Development of a professional team approach;
  • Improved content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge; and
  • Improved engagement with children.

Other learnings from ‘Make it Count’ can be found in its ‘Key Messages’ document (Key Messages, 2011), which is also available as a ‘Related Link’.

This case study features just some of the observations and findings from the Key Messages document, and illustrates them with comments from the EAs and AIEOs involved.

Message 1: The importance of mathematical and pedagogical knowledge for AIEOs and EAs

“Improving the mathematical content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge of teachers, as well as that of IEAs and Education Assistants leads to greater levels of confidence and purpose…” (Key Messages, 2011, p. 1, our emphasis)


Swan View Education Assistant, Noelene Booth


The training that the EAs and AIEOs have done is about developing maths content knowledge, and different ways of teaching it. It is also giving them a much needed ‘pedagogical voice’ where they can now talk with each other, with classroom teachers and other educators and parents about mathematics.


For me the biggest change has been the change in language when we’re talking about maths with children.


It makes it easier in every class that I go in to. I’m a lot more confident and I think I have a better understanding of how the kids learn. I didn’t know all that before.


We’ve had a lot of professional development, and we learned to record what a kid is doing during a class. That helps you work out where he couldn’t cope, and where the problems are. Recording like that also helps you see improvement over time.


I’m doing exactly the same with another class, where I’m monitoring two particular kids. The biggest thing I’ve found is that they don’t trust their own count, they’re still unsure of themselves and they won’t speak if they think they might be wrong. When I did a diagnostic task with them the other day one kid wrote 1010 as the next number after 109. You can see where she’s going wrong. We’ve learned how to bring in counting games to help with specific problems like that.



Swan View Education Assistant, Sue Beebe

The issue here is getting the kid to trust their own count. Until they do that, they can’t move on. It’s all related to self-esteem, self-confidence and taking risks. When they’re comfortable, kids will take risks. There’s always pressure to move kids along in maths, but sometimes they just need more time on the basics, because without it they’re always going to struggle.


What’s working here is the partnership between the teacher and the EA or AIEO, to improve the learning of the Aboriginal kids. The EAs and AIEOs are in a great position to monitor the learning of individual kids, because they spend time working closely with them. And the more those people are able to understand the maths, diagnose problems and break down learning, the better for the kids.

Message 2: The importance of hands-on learning, or using the mathematics in a concrete way

“Hands-on activities allow for enhanced learning to take place in a more social atmosphere.” (Key Messages, 2011, p. 1)


Moorditj Noongar College Indigenous Education Workers Jasmin Gentle (left) and Joanne Blatchford (right), with Caty Morris in the centre.


It’s important to have practical resources to help the kids in their maths classes. It’s also important to remember to put them in front of the kids at the right time! That’s something we’ve learned a bit about. The resource has to be right for the child’s level, though.


The kids do enjoy the hands on stuff and the visual, but the aim is to get the maths out of it, so that they can use it in other ways. There’s a bingo-type game we use and that’s always the challenge.


I remember one session we did about measurement. There was a jug and a bucket and the little kids were able to see how many jugs it would take to fill the bucket. First they’d guess, and then they’d actually do it and find out. They really enjoyed that and I think they got a lot out of it.


In one lesson we made a big soup, learning about wholes and halves and quarters as we cut celery into eighths and chicken into quarters. The kids really remembered that (and got to eat it for lunch!)

Message 3: The importance of students learning the language of mathematics

 “Teachers need to explicitly teach learners mathematical language so they are able to articulate what, how and why they are learning.” (Key Messages, 2011, p. 1)


There’s a big focus on literacy, but sometimes numeracy can get left behind.


Maths should be taught ‘as maths’ and as part of other school work as well. It should be both.


Yes, it should be both. Kids need to know the ‘written’ form of maths, the way you talk about it and the words you use. Aboriginal kids can pick up maths pretty quickly and I don’t think it’s right to say maths is outside our culture. There’s a lot of maths in everyday life and people say that Aboriginal kids are good with money, making change and that sort of thing. Or that they’re good with counting games using playing cards. We can work with that.


I’ve done radio interviews with quite a few Aboriginal kids who say that maths is their favourite subject.


Through Make it Count we’ve started keeping running records of the maths activities that children are doing, and that’s been brilliant. We have an idea of the levels they’re at because we work with them every day, but keeping the records makes a difference.

Message 4: The importance of working with parents

“Educators need to consider Indigenous parents’ own experiences in schooling and in learning mathematics and build their confidence to talk positively to their children about mathematics.” (Key Messages, 2011, p. 1)

“Indigenous education assistants can be crucial to building strong connections, resilience and trust between schools and their communities and families. When this happens, schools see a higher level of student engagement with increased confidence levels and self esteem. It also allows for parents and community to develop greater understanding of school processes.”  (Key Messages, 2011, p. 1)


We’d like to run a session with parents now, where we take some basic maths and show them that there are different ways of teaching it. For instance, when you’re driving along you can be looking at the numbers on the highway signs, and doing some maths with them. Or you can do some simple counting around the house, putting things away in the kitchen or taking them out. These are just basic things where kids can be involved with maths, in a natural way.


Another maths area we could look at is budgeting, but we could get to it through talking about lifestyle, because that’s what it’s really about. A budget is about making lifestyle choices, and people can get to the maths through that. We started a girls’ group here at lunchtimes and it has worked on that.

Message 5: The importance of the professional learning community

“Sharing expertise within the Cluster develops a professional learning community.” (Key Messages, 2011, p. 2)


Being able to work with people from other schools has been very interesting. Usually we’re running from one thing to the next and we don’t really have time to talk and collaborate. When you have that time you can see better what’s going on and you have the chance to change the way you work with kids.


I think it’s really important for AIEOs and EAs to have a voice about working with Aboriginal kids in maths. You already have a lot of knowledge but in the Cluster you have a chance to talk to each other (and to teachers) both within and across schools. That’s the professional community.

Message 6: The importance of positive relationships with students

“Learning happens when relationships between students and teachers are positive and when connections with family and school are mutually supportive.” (Key Messages, 2011, p. 1)


Aboriginal kids definitely want to bond with their teacher or with their classroom assistant. That’s when they’ll really learn.


You can’t spend an hour with an Aboriginal kid each week and leave it at that. You have to make a connection; you have to get to know them. Then when they have confidence in you and when they’re comfortable with you, you can work with them. You have to keep trying something until you find the right fit in terms of learning style.


© Commonwealth of Australia 2020