This study of recent school-leavers in Further Education explores students’ opinions of relevance and how these are influenced by their experiences of different mathematics curricula in school and college. These vocational students are taught mathematics as a functional ‘tool for life’ rather than a discipline of rules.
Perceptions of relevance are influenced by personal goals and interests (Ernest, 2004) and may depend on whether students identify a value for the qualification, a practical usefulness or some transferable skills (Sealey and Noyes, 2010). These can provide reasons for studying mathematics but, in this study, students who encountered mathematics as a ‘tool for life’ engaged in learning experiences that connected with their personal life experience. This changed their conceptual view of mathematics and added a different perspective to their views of relevance.
The research is part of a larger study of the student experience of functional mathematics in colleges but this paper will focus on qualitative data from student focus groups and lesson observations. Transcriptions were coded and compared to identify common themes in student experiences. The results suggest how teaching mathematics as a ‘tool for life’ can influence perceptions of relevance and effect some positive changes in student attitudes.
Dalby, D. (2014). The relevance of mathematics: The case of functional mathematics for vocational students