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Title: Navigating mathematics : making sense of purpose and activity in contemporary English mathematics education
Author: Ward-Penny, Robert
ISNI:       0000 0004 2749 5656
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2013
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Mathematics education serves a number of purposes within contemporary English society. Many of these concern the learning of knowledge and skills which an individual may need in their everyday life or in a future occupation. Other purposes are predicated instead on the merit afforded to mathematics by society, such that mathematics is used as a benchmark of intelligence or as a gatekeeper to future opportunities in education or employment. This thesis describes a research project which explores how a variety of learners recognise, navigate and make sense of this range of intents, and how the learners’ subsequent understanding informs both their decisions and their personal sense of mathematical purpose. It uses a critical grounded theory methodology to research and report the experiences of four groups of learners: adults returning to the formal study of mathematics after leaving school; undergraduates choosing to leave mathematics behind after completing their degrees; and GCSE students on and beneath the borderline of a watershed C grade. The results first support specific observations concerning each group then go on to reveal a number of resonances and commonalities which establish how purpose is inferred by, and how purpose influences, learners within contemporary mathematics education. Together the findings demonstrate that the place of mathematics as cultural capital plays a dominant role in steering mathematical trajectories. They go on to illustrate how this role and others impact on mathematical identities, and describe how many learners respond defensively to the current layering of discourses surrounding the purposes of mathematics education. In particular this thesis observes the deployment of minimisation and ego defence strategies, including partitioning mathematical learning, deferring its import and critiquing systems within mathematics education, each of which is advantaged by certain aspects of prevailing practice. In conclusion this thesis considers critically how these findings might inform both contemporary debates in mathematics education and current trends in pedagogy. It argues in turn for renewed attention regarding how the purposes of mathematics education are considered, balanced and communicated.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Economic and Social Research Council (Great Britain) (ESRC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: LB Theory and practice of education