Feb 12, 2013

The Nature of Mathematics and School Mathematics

By Marsigit
Yogyakarta State University

Mathematics ideas comprise thinking framed by markers in both time and space. However, any two individuals construct time and space differently, which present difficulties for people sharing how they see things.

Further, mathematical thinking is continuous and evolutionary, whereas conventional mathematics ideas are often treated as though they have certain static qualities. The task for both teacher and students is to weave these together. We are again face with the problem of oscillating between seeing mathematics extra-discursively and seeing it as a product of human activity (Brown, T, 1994).
Paul Ernest (1994) provokes the nature of mathematics through the following questions:
“What is mathematics, and how can its unique characteristics be accommodated in a philosophy? Can mathematics be accounted for both as a body of knowledge and a social domain of enquiry? Does this lead to tensions? What philosophies of mathematics have been developed? What features of mathematics do they pick out as significant? What is their impact on the teaching and learning of mathematics? What is the rationale for picking out certain elements of mathematics for schooling? How can (and should) mathematics be conceptualized and transformed for educational purposes? What values and goals are involved? Is mathematics value-laden or value-free? How do mathematicians work and create new mathematical knowledge? What are the methods, aesthetics and values of mathematicians? How does history of mathematics relate to the philosophy of mathematics? Is mathematics changing as new methods and information and communication technologies emerge?”

In order to promote innovation in mathematics education, the teachers need to change their paradigm of what kinds of mathematics to be taught at school. Ebbutt, S. and Straker, A. (1995) proposed the school mathematics to be defined and its implications to teaching as the following:
a.Mathematics is a search for patterns and relationship
As a search for pattern and relationship, mathematics can be perceived as a network of interrelated ideas. Mathematics activities help the students to form the connections in this network. It implies that the teacher can help students learn mathematics by giving them opportunities to discover and investigate patterns, and to describe and record the relationships they find; encouraging exploration and experiment by trying things out in as many different ways as possible; urging the students to look for consistencies or inconsistencies, similarities or differences, for ways of ordering or arranging, for ways of combining or separating; helping the students to generalize from their discoveries; and helping them to understand and see connections between mathematics ideas. (ibid, p.8)

b.Mathematics is a creative activity, involving imagination, intuition and discovery
Creativity in mathematics lies in producing a geometric design, in making up computer programs, in pursuing investigations, in considering infinity, and in many other activities. The variety and individuality of children mathematical activity needs to be catered for in the classroom. The teacher may help the students by fostering initiative, originality and divergent thinking; stimulating curiosity, encouraging questions, conjecture and predictions; valuing and allowing time for trial-and-adjustment approaches; viewing unexpected results as a source for further inquiry; rather than as mistakes; encouraging the students to create mathematical structure and designs; and helping children to examine others’ results (ibid. p. 8-9)

c.Mathematics is a way of solving problems
Mathematics can provide an important set of tools for problems- in the main, on paper and in real situations. Students of all ages can develop the skills and processes of problem solving and can initiate their own mathematical problems. Hence, the teacher may help the students learn mathematics by: providing an interesting and stimulating environment in which mathematical problems are likely to occur; suggesting problems themselves and helping students discover and invent their own; helping students to identify what information they need to solve a problem and how to obtain it; encouraging the students to reason logically, to be consistent, to works systematically and to develop recording system; making sure that the students develop and can use mathematical skills and knowledge necessary for solving problems; helping them to know how and when to use different mathematical tools (ibid. p.9)

d.Mathematics is a means of communicating information or ideas
Language and graphical communication are important aspects of mathematics learning. By talking, recording, and drawing graphs and diagrams, children can come to see that mathematics can be used to communicate ideas and information and can gain confidence in using it in this way. Hence, the teacher may help the students learn mathematics by: creating opportunities for describing properties; making time for both informal conversation and more formal discussion about mathematical ideas; encouraging students to read and write about mathematics; and valuing and supporting the diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds of all students (ibid. p.10)

Ebbutt, S. and Straker, A., 1995, Mathematics in Primary Schools Part I: Children and Mathematics. Collins Educational Publisher Ltd.: London

Ernest, P., 1994, Mathematics, Education and Philosophy: An International Perspective. The Falmer Press: London.

Ernest, P., 2002, What Is The Philosophy Of Mathematics Education?
Paul Ernest University of Exeter, United Kingdom. Retrieved

Ernest, P., 2007, Mathematics Education Ideologies And Globalization. Retrieved

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