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Teaching and problem-solving in whole and small-group at grades eight and nine

Research project This longitudinal study with students in their secondary school focuses on teaching and problem-solving by students in everyday classrooms.

With a focus on adolescent students, this longitudinal study attends to three aspects. First, the nature of division of students into main and small-group classes found to be the norm at their school; second, the demands made on teaching in either of these classes and third, problem-solving by students grouped in either of these within everyday instruction. Towards these aims this study draws analytically upon narrative, critical and cultural studies.

Project overview

Project period:

2010-08-25 2012-06-15

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

Researching mathematics classrooms at the middle grades has meant contending with adolescence and the demands of this stage of human development on teaching-learning. In relation to schooling, there is on one hand a perceptible anxiety felt by parents about the future of their children, another of students' personal search for individual identity and independence, and finally the embeddneddness of the lives of adolescent students in the multivariate dimensions of contemporary society. Against this backdrop, the problem of meaning of schooling more broadly and the role of mathematics in particular comes under increased scrutiny by students as learners. It comes as no surprise that these aspects correspondingly create intense demands on teachers at school. Understanding the very nature of complexity of these demands and adopting an appropriate theoretical basis with which to address these demands are thus pressing questions for research.

Conducted across grades eight and nine while adopting a grounded approach, this project investigates three aspects. First, the reasons behind students enrolling in either whole or small group classes, found to be the norm at this particular school. Meeting with parents and understanding the nature of their day-to-day interactions with teachers, informs research on the complexity of relationships that exist between home and school. Second, the demands on teaching at this level of schooling. This is need here to attend to the multiple voices that teachers are likely to perceive amidst a societally held perception of their role, their perception of what their own teaching practice should be as well as how their teaching is met with by their students. The third aspect possible to study is the nature of mathematical problem-solving by student groups within everyday instruction. It is possible to study how students participate in specially designed problem-solving activities both within their groups (cooperation) as well as across student groups (collaboration) within classroom practice.

This study draws on Vygotskian perspectives whereby conceptual and theoretical learning, in goal-directed social activities with peers, leads development in adolescent students. The methodological approach for making such a study possible is three-fold. Narrative in the form of small stories and talk-in-interaction informs the nature of social interactions that students have with their peers and teachers at school. Such an approach informs research in addition about the formation of student identities, built as these are with cultural resources found embedded in various classroom and school practices. A dialogical critical approach is utilised to appreciate the demands of teaching at this level of schooling. Such an approach allows for appreciation of multiple voices that arise within the personal, the societal, the given and the possible within day-to-day teaching. Finally, this project finds perspectives from cultural studies fruitful in shedding light on meaning making processes of adolescent students. Such an approach allows research to be sensitive also to the pervasive nature of contemporary culture.