Mathematical modelling in upper secondary school in Sweden : An exploratory investigation

University dissertation from Linköping : Linköping University Electronic Press

Abstract: The official curriculum guidelines for upper secondary school in Sweden emphasise the use of mathematical models and mathematical modelling in mathematics education. However, no explicit definitions or descriptions of the notions are given in the curriculum. This licentiate thesis is an exploratory study which investigates teachers’ and students’ conceptions of the notion of mathematical modelling as well as their attitudes and experiences of working with mathematical modelling in mathematics classrooms. One experience of mathematical modelling that faces both students and teachers which is investigated is the national course tests in mathematics.The thesis includes five papers and a preamble, where the papers are summarised, analysed, and discussed. Both quantitative and qualitative methods are being used in the thesis and theoretical aspects concerning mathematical modelling and conceptions are examined.The results indicate that mathematical modelling plays a minor role in the investigated mathematics classrooms. The students as well as the teachers were not familiar with the notion of mathematical modelling. Only 23% of the 381 students and 50 % of the 18 teachers had heard the notion before participating in the study. Both teachers and students participating in this study expressed a variety of different interpretations of the notion of mathematical modelling. Negative attitudes were expressed by the students as well as by some of the teachers concerning mathematical modelling. These negative attitudes may present obstacles for implementing mathematical modelling in the upper secondary mathematics classroom. However, these negative attitudes are related to the used test items, which may have had a negative impact on the research, especially, as the test items only test parts of the modelling process. One dominant conception found among the teachers was that mathematical modelling is related to physics or chemistry. The conclusion made from the investigation about national course tests in mathematics course D, is that there is a lack of holistic assessment of mathematical modelling. Intra-mathematical aspects of mathematical modelling are put in favour for extra-mathematical aspects.Researchers argue that if we want develop students’ modelling competency, than modelling has to be explicitly used and practised in the mathematics classrooms. However, for the Swedish upper secondary school this study concludes that this is not the case. A suggestion for future research is to focus on mathematical modelling in teacher education and design studies of incorporation of modelling activities into mathematics classrooms.

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