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Resisting reductionism in mathematics pedagogy

Foster, Colin


Colin Foster


Although breaking down a mathematical problem into smaller parts can often be an effective solution strategy, when the same reductionist approach is applied to mathematics pedagogy the effects are far from beneficial for students. Mathematics pedagogy in UK schools is gaining an increasingly reductionist flavour, as seen in an excessive focus on bite-sized learning objectives and a tendency for mathematics teachers to path-smooth their students’ learning. I argue that a reductionist mathematics pedagogy severely restricts students’ opportunities to engage in authentic mathematical thinking and deprives them of the enjoyment of solving richer, more worthwhile problems, which would forge connections across diverse areas of the subject. I attribute the rise of a reductionist mathematics pedagogy partly to an assessment-dominated curriculum and partly to a systemic de-professionalisation of teachers through a performative accountability culture in which they are constantly required to prove to non-specialist managers that they are effective. I argue that pedagogical reductionism in mathematics must be resisted in favour of a more holistic approach, in which students are able to bring a variety of mathematical knowledge and skills to bear on rich, challenging and non-routine mathematical tasks. Some principles for achieving this are outlined and some examples are given.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jan 1, 2013
Journal The Curriculum Journal
Electronic ISSN 0958-5176
Publisher Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 24
Issue 4
APA6 Citation Foster, C. (2013). Resisting reductionism in mathematics pedagogy. Curriculum Journal, 24(4), doi:10.1080/09585176.2013.828630
Keywords complexity theory, holism, mathematics curriculum, mathematics education, pedagogy, reductionism, task design, teacher accountability, teacher professionalism
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Copyright Statement Copyright information regarding this work can be found at the following address:


Colin_Fostera--Resisting_reductionism.pdf (209 Kb)

Copyright Statement
Copyright information regarding this work can be found at the following address:

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