Mathematical Research Using Real Data in the R-7 Classroom: Naomi Darby Takes an Innovative Approach to Representing Real Data in the Classroom

By Darby, Naomi | Australian Primary Mathematics Classroom, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Mathematical Research Using Real Data in the R-7 Classroom: Naomi Darby Takes an Innovative Approach to Representing Real Data in the Classroom


Darby, Naomi, Australian Primary Mathematics Classroom


The idea of using mathematical research in the classroom to collect real data has been spoken about within education for many years. But the question is, why should we bother with real data from our students' worlds and how do we actually put it into practice in the classroom?

When using the mathematical research strategy for collecting, representing and analysing real data, children are the driving force behind choosing the topics and questions for investigation. Consequently, interest and enthusiasm for learning is enhanced, as topics are about children and their own worlds (Hayden & Roberts, 1995). By forming and answering questions that are relevant to their own lives, children steer their own learning, producing new information that will potentially inform themselves, their peers and family members. In other words, the conclusions that children reach via the mathematical research strategy have the potential to provoke change in others (Bohan & Irby, 1995). Consequently, children will become aware of one of the many real world applications of mathematics: to inform others of trends, relationships and advantageous options.

As children are forming their own topics for investigation there are no limits to the number of learning areas to be covered. The integration of a number of learning areas within Mathematics and the exploring, analysing and modelling data strand of the South Australian Curriculum Standards and Accountability Framework (DECS, 2001) allows for ideas to be taken both wider and deeper. For example, the investigative question, 'which brand of chocolate biscuit is the best value?' can be taken both wider and deeper to include the contents and taste of the biscuit (Health), the processes undertaken to produce the biscuit (Science), a comparison of value verses taste (Mathematics), an examination and comparison of advertising strategies (S&E/Health/English), or further research into a variety of biscuit brands using the Internet (ICT).

Choosing something to investigate

The topics or questions chosen for exploration should be relevant to the children's worlds at the time of the investigation (Bobis, Mulligan, Lowrie & Taplin 1999). For example, examining data relating to the number of Australians consuming fast food daily may not be as applicable to children as a solution to the question, "Is it possible to eat a healthy meal at any one of the major fast food outlets?" After examining the contents of a 'healthy meal', children can investigate and analyse the nutritional value of a variety of foods from fast food websites on the Internet (integrating Health, English and Mathematics). Websites for four popular fast food chains are listed (Figure 1) each of which has a comprehensive list of nutritional content.

Classrooms and schools provide a myriad of investigations each term, some of which will be at the direct attention of students, others that may need to be brought to their attention. For example, teachers and students may be concerned with the number of spillages occurring in the classroom and require a solution, prompting the investigative question, "Which paper towel/sponge wipes up water/cordial/yogurt most effectively?" Such a question could then be taken wider to include, which is the cheapest? And then, which is the best value to buy?

However, investigations should not only be linked to the school but to the children's home lives and wider community. For example, one teacher with whom I spoke taught Reception children, a high proportion of whom had baby siblings in their families. Consequently, this teacher guided her children in investigating, "Where does the wee go in a disposable nappy?" She then took the investigation wider to include, "Which nappy absorbs the most wee?" and finally, "Which nappy is the best value for money?" In this investigation, children were acting as data collecting and analysing consumers, who wished to be informed about the 'best buys' for their younger brothers and sisters. …

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