Mathematics Education: Exploring the Culture of Learning

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

Section 1

Culture of the mathematics classroom - including equity and social justice

Each of the authors included in Section 1 is arguing about the importance of the creation of a classroom culture that supports effective learning. Underlying their work is the recognition that the values of the teacher impact upon the classroom but they do not assume that this is a simple system of cause and effect. The authors all see mathematics as a personal construction but are not necessarily agreed on the nature of mathematics.

If a classroom has a culture that values learners creating their own mathematics and becoming authors of mathematics, then the learners are more likely to become positioned as successful learners of mathematics. For this to happen you need a community of learners working together collaboratively and creatively. There needs to be a shift in the way some teachers view the nature of mathematics and an examination of the value they place on assessment and target setting. For a community of practice to flourish learners need to develop personal autonomy and be able to recognise for themselves that they are creating and understanding mathematics.

The first chapter by Paul Ernest focuses on the public image of mathematics. He is concerned that the public image of mathematics as cold, abstract and inhuman has an impact on the recruitment of students into higher mathematics.

Ernest highlights the importance of changing the negative public image of mathematics and challenges the general acceptance of an 'I can't do maths' culture. He looks at teacher philosophy and values and argues that it is the values that have most impact on the image of mathematics in the classroom. This image of mathematics also impacts on the way learners position themselves as successful or unsuccessful. In a classroom where a learner is expected to develop techniques and skills with single correct answers to questions it is not unusual for them to see themselves as an unsuccessful learner of mathematics or indeed to become mathephobic (Buxton, 1981).

He argues that school mathematics is not a subset of the discipline of mathematics but a different subject made up of number, algebra, measure and geometry and not studied for its own sake. But, even so, he believes mathematics should be humanised, for utilitarian and social reasons.

Andrew Pollard's research (Chapter 2) was not carried out in mathematics classrooms but has been included here because the findings are relevant for mathematics teachers. It is common for research about pupils' views to be carried out across subjects rather than in a particular subject. Pollard argues that researchers should cooperate

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