Maths: It doesn’t add up

2013-07-16 00:00

PUPILS might have the correct answer to a maths problem, but they sometimes lack conceptual understanding of the solution.

This is according to a study by two academics from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the Durban University of Technology.

Professor Deonarain Brijlall of DUT and UKZN lecturer Zanele Ndlovu both specialise in mathematics education.

The study, published by the South African Journal of Education recently, took 10 matriculants from a rural school in Mooi River and explored their mental constructions of mathematical knowledge during engagement with optimisation problems in Calculus.

The pupils were split into groups before they were tested and interviewed on various Calculus topics.

The researchers found that the pupils lacked understanding of certain mathematical problems (including Leibniz’s notation for differentiation) and preferred rules and formulas, and applied algebraic notions incorrectly.

Brijlall said Calculus is important because it consists of about 40% algebra in the Grade 12 maths curriculum and also forms a solid foundation in advanced mathematics post- matric. His concern was that the pupils’ understanding was limited and they fell short when digging deeper into questions.

“In some cases it appeared that they struggled to accommodate new learnt topics with the previous one; in task one the concept of minima/maxima had been dealt with in Grade 11. But they couldn’t apply that knowledge to the task at hand,” the research stated.

In some instances, the pupils did not even “bother to understand the question but just inserted the numbers and applied rules without insight”.

The study shows that pupils’ construction of knowledge was based on isolated facts and procedures, adding that this might be the result of the way teaching and learning occurred in the classroom.

Speaking to The Witness, Brijlall said teachers needed to do more work and an understanding of what was required in the subject was needed.

When asked about the role of the pupils themselves, he said pupils need to practise a lot, ask questions and understand before they can answer any question.

In another study, Cape Peninsula University of Technology lecturer Sibawu Siyepu said there was a huge shortage of skilled workers in various fields such as engineering, accountancy, architecture and medicine, and that mathematics was a gateway subject for entry in these careers.

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