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Teaching mathematics for social justice: translating theories into practice

Wright, P; (2015) Teaching mathematics for social justice: translating theories into practice. Doctoral thesis (Ed.D), University of Sussex.

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This study reports on a project exploring how a commitment towards teaching mathematics for social justice amongst teachers can be translated into related classroom practice. It recounts how a group of teacher researchers set about achieving this through developing, trying out and evaluating a series of teaching ideas and activities. It contrasts the abundance of research literature on theories of mathematics education and social justice with the relative scarcity of studies on developing practice in this area. Mathematics lessons are generally characterised by too much focus on factual recall and procedural understanding, resulting in unacceptable levels of disengagement and disaffection amongst learners. A critical methodological stance is adopted in arguing that this current situation should not be taken as given. The research design is based on a model of participatory action research, which is socio-political, participative, collaborative, emancipatory and recursive in nature, and aims to bring about desirable social change. Careful consideration is given to the credibility, transferability, dependability and confirmability of the research findings, and particular attention is paid to the role of the researcher in facilitating the research group. Data was collected primarily from meetings of the research group and a series of semi-structured empathetic interviews conducted with each teacher researcher. Audio-recordings were transcribed and condensed before being coded inductively and analysed through a thematic approach, using the constant comparative method to draw out meaning from the data. A case study approach was used as a means to capture and report the stories of how teacher researchers’ thinking and classroom practice evolve and develop over the course of the project. Findings from the project demonstrate how the five teacher researchers, through their involvement in the project, begin to question seriously and rethink previously held views about the nature of mathematics, their own relationship with the subject and notions of mathematical ability. They exhibit a growing belief that the development of students’ mathematical understanding and awareness of social justice issues are inextricably linked, rather than separate objectives. These changes in epistemologies appear to have an impact on teacher researchers’ classroom practice and their students’ dispositions towards learning mathematics. There is evidence that making mathematics more relevant and meaningful leads to raised levels of student engagement, and that focusing on how mathematics can be used to understand real-life issues and to construct an argument for change leads to increased student agency. The collaborative and participative nature of the research group shows how a mutually supportive environment can be created which promotes the self-efficacy of teacher researchers in addressing issues of social justice in their mathematics classrooms. By relating the findings back to the underlying theories, conclusions are drawn of relevance to practitioners and researchers in the field of mathematics education. These relate to the relationship between teacher epistemologies and teaching approaches, the relevance and purpose of the school mathematics curriculum and the potential of participatory action research as a model of professional development which has a strong impact on classroom practice and promotes teachers’ genuine engagement in and with research.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ed.D
Title: Teaching mathematics for social justice: translating theories into practice
Event: University of Sussex
Publisher version: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/53984/
Keywords: Mathematics education, Social justice, Participatory action research
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education > IOE - Curriculum, Pedagogy and Assessment
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1553916
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