Societal Views of Mathematics and Mathematicians and Their Influence on Elementary Students

Title: Societal Views of Mathematics and Mathematicians and Their Influence on Elementary Students
Authors: Hall, Jennifer E.
Date: 2013
Abstract: Prior research has shown that negative attitudes toward mathematics are linked to decreased achievement and participation, but it is unclear what factors influence children’s attitudes toward mathematics. Thus, the overarching goal of this study was to understand the relationship between outside sources and children’s views. Specifically, this study investigated elementary students’ experiences with and views of mathematics and mathematicians, and the ways that their views may be influenced by popular media representations, parents’ views, and teachers’ views of mathematics and mathematicians. Additionally, the study examined whether there were differences between girls’ and boys’ views and between younger (Grade 4) and older (Grade 8) elementary students’ views of mathematics and mathematicians. Framed by a social constructivist and feminist epistemological stance, the study employed a multi-method framework comprised of questionnaires (n = 156), drawings of mathematicians (n = 94), and focus group interviews (five interviews, involving 21 participants) with students; an analysis of children's media (43 examples across five media types); interviews with parents (11 interviews, involving 13 participants); and interviews with teachers (nine interviews, involving 10 participants). In terms of their relationships with mathematics, the student, parent, and teacher participants’ views were encouraging, both in terms of perceptions of themselves as learners of mathematics and of the utility of mathematics. However, the manner in which the participants conceptualized mathematics tended to lack breadth, often focusing on arithmetic and financial mathematics. Similar conceptions of mathematics were evident in the media representations. Moreover, media portrayals of mathematicians and mathematically proficient people tended to perpetuate stereotypes. Despite their awareness of these stereotypes, the participants often lacked alternative representations to challenge these views. Indeed, the lack of exposure to a variety of representations of both mathematics and mathematicians contributed to the participants’ reliance on views that were often narrow and stereotypical.
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -