Peter Sullivan

Emeritus Prof


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Personal profile


Peter Sullivan is currently Emeritus Professor of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, Monash University. He has extensive experience in research and teaching in teacher education. He was a member of the Social, Behavioural and Economic Sciences panel of the Australian Research Council College of Experts from 2005 to 2008, and was an editor of the Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education for 8 years. He is the immediate past President of the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers and was the lead writer of the Australian Curriculum: Mathematics.


Theorising successful practices in the classroom

From the classrooms of Papua New Guinea, Melbourne and the Kimberley, Professor Peter Sullivan has been turning the practice of school students and teachers into theory, and is now helping support Australian teachers in their transition to the new national curriculum.

For six years, Peter worked in schools and universities in Papua New Guinea:

'The experience highlighted, in an extreme way, the importance and the influence of culture on learning, and the importance and influence of language on that. It also highlighted the capacity of everyone to learn, and a belief that everyone can learn. While those issues are important whatever school we're talking about, PNG accentuated them.'

His research has subsequently been in the fields of teaching and learning at schools.

'Maths in the Kimberley' is one of Peter's current projects, which involves working in remote Kimberley schools, on teaching mathematics and how that can be most effectively made to work.

Another is an Australian Research Council discovery project titled 'Encouraging Persistence Maintaining Challenge'. In conjunction with researchers from the Australian Catholic University and others from Monash, Peter is helping support teachers, particularly those in maths and English, adapt to the changes in the national curriculum - what he describes as 'an 'intervention' we've never had before.' He will research the teachers' needs and find out how they can be adequately supported.

Peter is used to asking some big questions concerning how young people learn: What tasks are effective in mathematics teaching and how can a teacher best use those tasks? What motivates students to do well? What are the characteristics of an effective classroom and how do students respond?

'We're combining these questions to look at what sort of things teachers can do to encourage students to try hard and persist. What kinds of tasks are challenging and engaging for students and encourage them to work hard? Also, ways teachers can support students in doing the challenging tasks, so as to build the type of learning that we're looking for.'

Techniques that Peter has found to be particularly useful for teaching have been exercises where students have to make decisions, have to connect two or three ideas together, can use different strategies to find the answer, and can find several different answers.

'One of my research interests is to research what's possible, and to see what happens when something is tried out in the class room situation. They talk about 'That looks like a good practice - let's see how it works in theory.' It's intended as a joke, but I kind of follow that line a bit: how can we theorise practice, rather than how can we implement theory in practice.'

Research interests

  • Mathematics curriculum, especially National Curriculum
  • Teaching and learning in Mathematics
  • Student engagement
  • Disadvantaged students' achievement in mathematics

Research area keywords

  • Mathematics curriculum
  • National Curriculum
  • Teaching and learning in Mathematics
  • Student engagement
  • Disadvantaged students' achievement in mathematics


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