Student (dis)engagement in mathematics

Year: 2008

Author: Makar, Katie, Fielding-Wells, Jill

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

National and international studies show Australian students to be mathematically capable, yet disinterested and disengaged from the subject, perceiving it to be boring, irrelevant and difficult. Inquiry-based learning aims to contextualise mathematical learning in ways which situate it within authentic problems, with knowledge and meaning developed through discourse and representation; however, little research has been undertaken to determine whether inquiry-based learning improves student engagement. A framework based on the work of Kong, Wong and Lam (2003) is used to identify probable variables affecting engagement. The survey data collected from primary students (ages 8-12, n = 209) were compared between those with experience in inquiry-based learning and those without. Engagement scores of students involved in inquiry indicated markedly higher interest, increased attentiveness and decreased frustration; suggesting the potential for inquiry to halt or reverse the pattern of declining interest among students. With current trends of capable but disengaged students, this research may be an early indicator of a way ahead in mathematics education.