Academic journal article Education

Fostering Students' Disposition towards Mathematics: A Case from a Canadian University

Academic journal article Education

Fostering Students' Disposition towards Mathematics: A Case from a Canadian University

Article excerpt

One of several factors that affect students' learning of mathematics is their disposition towards mathematics. As used here, mathematical disposition means "a tendency to think and act in positive ways" (National Council of Teachers of mathematics, 1989, p. 233). This tendency is reflected by students' interest and confidence in doing mathematics, willingness to explore alternatives and persevere while solving mathematical problems, and the willingness to reflect on their own thinking while they learn mathematics (NCTM, 1989; Schmalz, 1989).

One way to encourage students' interest and help them gain the confidence to do mathematics is to develop mathematical concepts from real-life experiences of people and other subject disciplines [Nunes, Schliemann, & Carraher, 1993] or via problem solving (Lester, Masingila, Mau, Lambdin, Pereira dos Santos, & Raymond, 1994). Getting students interested in doing mathematics also involves creating a non-threatening classroom environment where students are encouraged to share their ideas and have those ideas respected (NCTM, 1991).

The author's belief in fostering students' disposition toward mathematics learning through connecting mathematical concepts with real-life situations and through encouraging student discourse in the mathematics classroom formed the cornerstone of a 12-week course he designed for students preparing to enter a primary teacher education program in a Canadian university.

Even though this course might raise several interesting issues, the major focus of this article is to document the variety of classroom activities students of the course engaged in and how these activities impacted on the students' disposition towards mathematics. A brief description of the course and the students' background is also provided. Finally, some observations from the course and challenges the course posed for the instructor and the students are shared with readers.

The Course

This was an introductory course in mathematics offered in this university's preservice elementary teacher education program. The content covered topics in algebra, arithmetic, geometry, probability, and statistics.

Table 1

Words describing what mathematics meant to the students of this class before the course.

Anxiety Frustration Intimidation Stress Confusion Frightening Panic Chore Terrifying Foreboding black hole Fear Scary Pain Hurts the brain Abstract Difficult Sense of uncertainty Obscure Blurry

Table 2

What mathematics meant to Jane before the course.

The word mathematics tends to throw me into a panic and then I settle down into a sense of uncertainty-figures, adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing and from there I draw a blank. My approach this time is not to panic as quickly and open myself and mind to learning exactly what mathematics is, because to be perfectly honest I don't believe I know what it means. I believe it doesn't have to be as daunting as people tend to make it out to be.

The Students

The 30 students for the course came with varying backgrounds. All of them had first degrees but in different subject disciplines like English, French, Geography, History, and Physics. The last time they took a mathematics course ranged from two to eight years. For several years, many had postponed entry into the preservice program because they dreaded taking this course.

The Classes

Easing student anxiety

It is my experience that many students enter their first mathematics classes with some anxiety, so the first day of class was used to ease the apparent anxiety among the students. They were asked to introduce themselves, talk about their background, and make known their expectations from the course. The instructor shared with the students his expectations that they take the responsibility of doing and understanding mathematics themselves. They were to work in small groups of between 3 and 5, share their ideas, and justify their thinking. …

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