Mathematics Education: Exploring the Culture of Learning

By Barbara Allen; Sue Johnston-Wilder | Go to book overview

Introduction

Issues in researching mathematics learning Mathematics educationIntroduction

Barbara Allen and Sue Johnston-Wilder

Culture […] shapes the minds of individuals […]. Its individual expression inheres in meaning making, assigning meanings to things in different settings on particular occasions.

(Bruner, 1996)

The purpose of this book is to bring together readings which explore the culture of learning in a mathematics classroom. These readings show how knowledge of this culture assists teachers and learners to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics and to address concerns of social justice and the need for equity.

Most educators and researchers assume that there are relationships between teachers' experience of and beliefs about mathematics, the classroom atmosphere they develop, the experience of learners in those classrooms and the resulting attainment in and attitude to mathematics. These are relationships that researchers try to demonstrate, and it is not easy. In recent years many researchers have become interested in the culture in mathematics classrooms. This is not purely a sociological stance as can be seen in the work of researchers such as Lave. In Lave's view the type of learning that occurs is significantly affected by the learning environment. The notion of community of practice (Lave and Wenger, 1991) has been very influential over recent years alongside the recognition of learning as being socially constructed and mediated through language (Vygotsky, 1978). In order for learners to take control over their own learning they need to be part of a community of practice in which the discourses and practices of that community are negotiated by all the participants. Within a community of practice, the main focus is on the negotiation of meaning rather than the acquisition and transmission of information (Wenger, 1998). The features of such a community include collaborative and cooperative working and the development of a shared discourse. This view of the classroom as a community of practice is very different from that of the panoptic space (Paechter, 2001) displayed in many English mathematics classrooms where pupils are under constant surveillance in terms of behaviour and learning.

The publication of this book comes at a time when schools in England and in many other countries are facing a critical shortage of mathematics teachers. In England this shortage is due to a failure to recruit and retain sufficient teachers of mathematics to

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