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Development of students' communication at a grade four mathematics classroom

Research project

Conducted with a grade four Swedish classroom, this project involves the design of activities that foster the communicative abilities of students within the teaching-learning of mathematics. A longitudinal study, the design of successive activities takes into consideration pedagogical and didactical needs that arise in situ which change dynamically through the academic year. With potential to inform multiple aspects of complexity that relate to classroom instruction, the study aims to understand the changing nature of participation by students in the activities designed, by drawing on perspectives from activity theory. Of interest as well is the nature of relationship that is fostered between the students, teacher, researcher and the ongoing research process.

Project overview

Project period:

2009-08-12 2010-06-17

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Science and Mathematics Education, Faculty of Science and Technology

Research subject

Educational sciences, Mathematics

Project description

This project arises out of a school sponsored initiative funded by the Skolverket (Dnr 2009:406) of correlating mathematics and communication. By the time of its conduct a well understood working relationship between the researcher and mathematics teacher had been established, with each letting the other lead and be lead in the conduct of the instruction of mathematics in the classroom. A cordial acceptance for research has also been established with the the class teacher of the grade, as well as the school more generally at which the study is taking place.

Proceeding in a naturalistic manner and intended to transpire the duration of the academic year, this project proceeds on the basis of specially designed tasks that take into consideration various pedagogical and didactical needs that arise in situ as instruction progresses. The tasks designed are premised on two notions (a) that talk needs to be trained within teaching-learning – allowing students to use language to solve mathematical problems (b) that a major factor that determines the development in children is their active role in mediated activity – the use of cultural tools within which allows students to develop psychological tools and demonstrate independent behaviour. Via the study it is possible therefore to observe and understand the historical and changing nature of participation by students in the activities so designed. Perspectives from activity theory are drawn upon for this purpose, which offer the possibility of teasing out the nature of outcomes of participation in successive activities as for example in teacher driven discussion, students working with one another within a pair and students working as pairs or dyads. A crucial component of task design in this study, takes into consideration the difficulties that the teacher thinks the students are facing as instruction progresses, where facilitating her role as a teacher is also an accompanying goal. It goes without saying that the conduct of such designed activities in the classroom draws upon a history of their successful deployment within instruction, making the nature of student participation a key feature of subsequent design.

The highly relational data that this kind of study yields, has potential to inform multiple aspects of complexity that relate to classroom instruction. Particular areas of interest that have potential to be informed include: problem posing by students, the subjective world of mathematics that the students participate in, as well as the nature of creativity that students unravel. It is also the case that a dynamic project such as this rests heavily on the nature of ongoing and ethical relationship that is fostered between the students, teacher, researcher and the educational research process. With the possibility of generating actionable knowledge in the process, this project can well be considered as falling within the domain of action research.

The above project extends the deployment of activity theory perspectives utilised in a classroom and doctoral study, and is supported financially by a post-doctoral scholarship provided by the Kempe foundation, Sweden.