Using activity theory in researching young children's use of calculators

Year: 2004

Author: Groves, Susie, Dale, Joyce

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Constructivist and socio-cultural perspectives in mathematics education highlight the crucial role that activity plays in mathematical development and learning. Activity theory provides a socio-cultural lens to help analyse human behaviour, including that which occurs in classrooms. It provides a framework for co-ordinating constructivist and socio-cultural perspectives in mathematics learning. In this paper, we adopt Cole and Engeström's (1993) model of activity theory to examine the mediation offered by the calculator as a tool for creating and supporting learning processes of young children in the social environment of their classroom. By adopting this framework, data on young children's learning outcomes in number, when given free access to calculators, can be examined not only in terms of the mediating role of the calculator, but also within the broader context of the classroom community, the teachers' beliefs and intentions, and the classroom norms and the division of labour. Use of this model in a post hoc situation suggests that activity theory can play a significant role in the planning of future classroom research.