What makes mathematics lessons interesting in the middle school : student and teacher perceptions : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Educational Studies in Mathematics at Massey University
Some researchers have suggested that students in schools find mathematics classes boring, and that this attitude towards learning mathematics gets stronger as students grow older. Using reports of students and teachers, this study investigates how interest is used and developed in intermediate school mathematics classes. Five teachers and 101 Year 7 and 8 students from a single co-educational suburban state intermediate school participated in the study. One teacher and ten student focus group discussions to explore attitudes to and uses of interest in their mathematics classrooms were audio-taped. The results of these discussions were used to develop themes that formed the basis of separate student and staff questionnaires for all participants. Further data was obtained from a mathematics class journal kept by participants, and from individual interviews with all staff and seven randomly chosen students. The study showed that both teachers and students had similar ideas about what students found interesting, and revealed several aspects of classroom practices that heightened and/or developed interest in learning mathematics. The most notable of these were: using hands-on activities; teacher enthusiasm; group work and student progress. Mathematical content was rarely seen as interesting in itself, although probability, symmetry and transformations, geometry and problem solving were regarded as the most interesting sub-strands of the curriculum, while number, measurement and 'all of mathematics' garnered least support. Bookwork using textbooks or worksheets was usually considered boring, and activities such as external mathematics competitions and challenging or easy mathematics polarised student opinion. Interest has a complex and generally positive association with learning. Student reports suggest that two interest factors that have the potential to be used more effectively in mathematics lessons are teacher enthusiasm and group work. The catch phase of situational interest, the aspect of interest most frequently used, was rarely developed further. This study suggests that mathematics learning will benefit from further developing interest in mathematics classes by linking situational interest factors with mathematical content, student experiences and clarity about each student's progress. Teachers need professional development and resource support for this to happen.