An investigation into the behaviour of a group of primary school children when using selected mathematical software

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Very little is known about how young children think and behave when faced by computers and the broad array of mathematical software available. Much of the software has been developed by adults in the way adults see young children reasoning. A class of twenty English-speaking boys of approximately 12 years of age were exposed to carefully selected mathematical software without adult (teacher) interference, to clarify how these pupils would react to that software. Special focus was placed on the interactions of three children throughout the series of twenty lessons, using two video cameras to record their behaviour. The size of the groupings was changed to consider the effect of group size on the pupils' interactions. Various 'themes' evolved out of reviewing the video recordings. These 'themes' were then linked to Research data. It appears that these pupils had great trouble in reading and interpreting instructions accurately. Also, the software made assumptions of what the pupils could do. The interaction and collaboration by the boys seemed at its best when they were in a group of two as 'peer equals'. The class recognised and used the services of those boys they considered 'experts' in the use of computers. The video-recordings showed that the pupils preferred having pencil and paper available to record information and their estimations, rather than having to rely on memory. It seemed to give permanence to their thoughts and make these more explicit and organised. An analysis of the data also showed that the software and the boys' reaction to it was distinctly sexist. The names of the software (SNOOKER, PILOT, MATHS - CARS IN MOTION, etc.) can be seen as male. The boys gave the computer a 'personality' and referred to it as a 'he'. Also, a disturbing tendency among these pupils was the way they interpreted the software and reacted to it in a distinctive military fashion. This can be attributed to the boys having to battle, explode or bomb their way to victory; to shoot something or be shot in much of the software available. My role of being 'non-expert' was an extremely difficult one as the pupils had expectations of me, and the shortcomings in the software obliged some form of interference. My conclusions are that the mathematical software needs to be appropriate and relevant to what is being done in the class rather than to exist on its own outside of it, and that it could aid the pupil to think about his thinking.

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