Problem-solving in geometry in collaborative small group settings: how learners appropriate mathematical tools while working in small groups
Problem-solving in Mathematics is an important skill. The poor performance of South African learners in international tests such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and in schools in general indicates that emphasis should be placed on problem-solving in the teaching and learning of Mathematics. The new national senior certificate curriculum in South Africa encourages group work amongst learners. The thesis proposes that learning is enhanced in a small-group setting, since learners actively engage with the problems. Furthermore, Euclidean Geometry is perceived by learners to be a „difficult‟ section of Mathematics. However, Geometry is important since the skills acquired while doing Geometry can be applied to various fields of study. This research focused on Geometry problem-solving in collaborative small-group settings. An inductive approach was taken that focused on what learners were doing while they were doing problem-solving in geometry in collaborative groups. Problem-solving is viewed as a situated and contextually-determined activity. The research focused on how learners appropriated tools (physical as well as intellectual) and how they interacted with one other and the subject matter. The socio-cultural perspective was the theoretical framework underpinning the study. In this perspective, learning is seen as a social process in which learners actively participate and contribute with ideas and arguments. In addition, learning is seen as a situated activity. The research was carried out in the form of a case study that focused on three groups of three learners each, from a secondary school in Khayelitsha, a township approximately 30 km outside Cape Town, South Africa. The small groups were monitored and observed in a school setting and special attention was given to their interaction within their group, given their social and cultural context. The ethnographic approach to data gathering, which allows for the routine, everyday, taken-for-granted aspects of school and classroom life, was used. Data were collected by means of audio and video recordings, interviews with learners and teacher observations. The data analysis included analysis of field notes, audio and video transcripts and learners‟ written work. The data were analysed in terms of Pickering‟s theory that all scientific practice is a “dialectic of resistance and accommodation” and that this constitutes a “mangle of practice” (Pickering, 1995).