Academic journal article Australian Mathematics Teacher

Making Mathematics and Science Relevant through Story

Academic journal article Australian Mathematics Teacher

Making Mathematics and Science Relevant through Story

Article excerpt

Inquiries into the state of mathematics and science education in Australia express the need to make the curriculum more relevant and meaningful to students' lives. However, such a vision requires that teachers understand how relevance can enter mathematics and science classrooms in meaningful and appropriate ways. This paper asks: how is relevance thought of in mathematics as compared with science and what problems might this pose for teachers moving between mathematics and science?

Background, aims and framework

Despite reform in Australia in science and mathematics education, the disparity between the science and mathematics education being offered and the needs and interests of students continue to be of growing concern. A number of inquiries into the state of school science and mathematics in Australia in the past six years (Department of Education Science and Training, 2003; Education Training Committee, 2006; Goodrum, Hackling, & Rennie, 2001) report on falling enrolments in post-compulsory science and mathematics, and student disenchantment with curriculum that they often consider to be irrelevant. For example, the Education Training Committee (2006) found that one of the major factors contributing to student disengagement in secondary mathematics is the lack of connectivity between students' lives and mathematical problems. Similarly in science, the Committee recognised a need for curriculum approaches that focus on, among other things, relevance to students' lives, as well as those that make strong links between future education and career pathways.

As a discourse operating in both mathematics and science, relevance by relating the curriculum to students' lives is well established as being important in making the curriculum accessible and meaningful for students (Education Training Committee, 2006). For instance, the curriculum documents of the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS) for mathematics and science recognise relevance as one of the bases of the discipline-based learning strand: "students develop deeper understanding of discipline-based concepts when they are encouraged to reflect on their learning, take personal responsibility for it and relate it to their own world" (VCAA, 2005, p. 3). However, such a focus will depend on teachers understanding how relevance can enter mathematics and science classrooms in a meaningful and appropriate way.

This paper uses snippets from classroom practice to explore how six mathematics and/or science teachers attempted to make the subject matter meaningful for their students by presenting a humanised and relevant subject. The paper asks the questions:

* how is relevance thought of in mathematics as compared with science?

* what problems might this pose for teachers moving between mathematics and science?

The attempts of the teachers are referred to as "stories" or "narratives" because it was through discussions about stories that many of these ideas emerged from the teachers. As "stories" they "help students organise their knowledge into explanatory frameworks which serve them as interpretive lenses through which to comprehend their experiences" (Milne, 1998, p.178).

Methods

This comparative study aimed to explore:

* how teachers of mathematics and science in lower secondary school experienced the subject cultures of mathematics and science;

* identification of those pedagogies that appeared to be representative of the subject cultures; and,

* ways in which pedagogy was shaped by teachers' experiences with the subject cultures.

Various qualitative methods were used over eighteen months to periodically observe, video-record and interview six secondary science and/or mathematics teachers: Donna, Pauline, Rose, Simon, Ian and James. I observed teachers' classroom practice during a sequence of teaching in mathematics and/or science, and two of these lessons were video-recorded for each teacher. …

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