Be innovative but don't be wrong: Are 21st century students experiencing 21st century mathematics education?

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University of New Brunswick


The 21st century has brought with it dramatic challenges through climate change, social and economic instability, volatile energy and food prices, and the consequent global vulnerabilities and inequalities. To meet these challenges, governments are responding by reviewing and reforming educational policy and implementing targets that focus on competencies such as creativity, innovation, collaboration, communication, character, culture and ethical citizenship, and computer and digital technologies. Despite these efforts, public education is still firmly embedded in the structures of an industrial age. This is particularly evident in assessment practices. Expectations for monitoring and uniformity are increasing at the same time as policies outlining the need to develop innovation. This dissertation investigates the impact of these policies and practices on students. This dissertation reports the findings of a study on the judgements made about teaching and learning mathematics and how those judgements reflect the values embedded in mathematics education. The data was gathered in two grade eight classes from suburban schools in an Atlantic province of Canada. For each school, the research included five recorded sessions of the regularly timetabled class, journal writing, a recorded focus group session of students, and an interview with the teacher. The recordings took place mid-way through a unit on graphing equations in one class and a study of integers in the other class. As with all research, the literature is selected to build a portrait of the context within which to present the information and frame the findings. As judgement is a highly contextualized enterprise, the review begins with an overview of the current sociopolitical climate within which teachers are expected to teach and measure their students’ understanding and within which students are attempting to succeed. In the literature section I explore the current environment of mathematics education and the theoretical frameworks that provide a means for educational researchers to investigate mathematics teaching in context. The study then turns to a description of the methodological tool and outlines the research design. The discussion is qualitative and interpretive. It is argued that, despite the fact that the classes were well taught, the students continue a legacy of a narrow concept of the nature and purpose of mathematics and mathematics education. Finally, some suggestions regarding directions for subsequent research are considered.