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Girls’ perceptions of mathematics: an interpretive study of girls’ mathematical identities

Foley, C. (2016) Girls’ perceptions of mathematics: an interpretive study of girls’ mathematical identities. EdD thesis, University of Reading

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This thesis explores girls’ perceptions of mathematics and how they make sense of their mathematical identity. It seeks to understand the characterisations girls make of mathematics and mathematicians, shedding light upon their positioning as mathematicians. This is important because there remains a tendency for able females to rate themselves lower than males of a similar attainment, and be less likely to continue into post-compulsory study of mathematics. This research followed an interpretive paradigm, taking a grounded, case-based approach and using a mosaic of qualitative methods. Fourteen girls from a school in the south-east of England aged 8-9 at the start of the study took part in the research over 15 months. The data collected comprised scrapbooks, concept maps, relationship wheels, drawings, digital photographs, metaphors, group and individual interviews. Data were analysed using open and focused coding, sensitising concepts and constant comparison to arrive at key categories and themes. The main conclusions of the study are that time taken to explore the diversity of girls’ perceptions of themselves as mathematicians provides a powerful insight into their identity formation. Many girls struggled to articulate the purpose of mathematics dominant in their vision of what it meant to be a mathematician. Whilst they recognised a rich variety of authentic mathematical activity at home, this was overwhelmed by number, calculation, speed and processes, with mathematics recognised as desk-bound and isolating. They made sense of their mathematical identity through their characterisations of mathematics alongside interactions and comparisons with others. The girls in the study took a high degree of responsibility for their own development, believing they could improve with ever-greater effort. However, this led to the need for a buffer zone, allowing teachers, family and friends to support the individual in continuing to grow and protecting them from mathematical harm. This research recommends the provision of safe spaces for mathematical exploration in terms of time, space and collaboration, connecting mathematical study with application and interest, reframing mathematics as a social endeavour and sharing responsibility with girls for their mathematical development. Finally, it suggests the value of practitioners paying close attention to girls’ evolving mathematical identities.

Item Type:Thesis (EdD)
Thesis Supervisor:Fuller, C. and Trakulphadetkrai, N. V.
Thesis/Report Department:Institute of Education
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Institute of Education
ID Code:65926


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