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Discourse in a mathematics classroom at the gymnasium

Research project

This project studies the nature of discourse that relates to the teaching-learning of mathematics at the gymnasium. At a level where classroom instruction is geared largely to the needs of students taking the qualifying examination, the study aims at understanding day-to-day instruction from a sociocultural perspective. With the textbook and relevant graphical packages made available by the publisher in the digital format, the use of computers is found commonplace at this level. Free access to digital media that comes with the use of computers makes the environment in which mathematics is taught and learnt highly demanding and challenging for both students and their teacher. The discourse that transpires within the classroom is thus fraught with issues relating to what the learning of mathematics is about as well as educating the young in contemporary times.

Project overview

Project period:

2009-08-11 2009-09-16

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

The central importance of talk as a social mode of thinking in the classroom teaching-learning of mathematics has been recognised in educational research. The nature of this discourse however differs greatly at the primary, middle and gymnasium levels of schooling that students attend. This projects aims at understanding classroom discourse at the gymnasium level, by which time students are young adults and on the brink of participating as responsible members of society. Preparing for the qualifying examination and a quest of what to do with the qualifications that are being pursued thus becomes a compelling part of classroom instruction at this level.

The material aspects of instruction that cater to the above mentioned focus also play a major role in how mathematics is taught, learnt and perceived at this level of schooling. While as young adults students are expected and guided into taking responsibility for individual performance, they are also placed in a situation of having to deal with limitless access to digital media. With the textbook made available by the publisher in the hypertext format along with well thought out graphical packages that can dynamically demonstrate many key concepts of the curriculum, the use of the computer is both imperative and commonplace for the students. Classroom instruction in such a scenario thus makes heavy demands on the teacher who may have to seek attention for mathematics against the limitless opportunities that digital media offer. The discourse that transpires within the classroom for the teaching-learning of mathematics is thus fraught with issues relating to what the learning of mathematics is about, as well as the larger issue of educating young adults in contemporary and changing times today.

Conducted in a naturalistic manner this project draws on classroom discourse audio recorded over the length of the academic year. Of particular interest to educational research is what the students and teacher perceive and say about the learning and nature of mathematics at this level. Another aspect of pedagogical interest is the role of the teacher in speaking for mathematics while also guiding his students in the crowded semiotic space in the classroom he finds himself in, for which he in all probability has received little if any professional training.

The above project extends a sociocultural understanding of the classroom teaching-learning of mathematics deployed in a classroom and doctoral study and is supported financially by a post-doctoral scholarship provided by the Kempe foundation, Sweden.