Mathematics in context

Lee, Clare and Ward-Penny, Robert (2010). Mathematics in context. In: Johnston-Wilder, Sue; Johnston-Wilder, Peter; Pimm, David and Lee, Clare eds. Learning to Teach Mathematics in the Secondary School: a companion to school experience, 3rd edition. Learning to teach subjects in the secondary school. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 206–224.



An important part of the role of a mathematics teacher is to present mathematics in a situated way, allowing pupils to 'work on open and closed tasks in a variety of real and abstract contexts that allow them to select the mathematics to use' (QCA, 2007a: 147). Whether you use a context-based question from a textbook, engage in an investigation that lasts for a whole lesson or are asked to deliver a set of 'functional' or 'cross-curricular' lessons, you will frequently find yourself linking concepts and methods from the mathematics curriculum to the 'real world'. Taking this approach to teaching mathematics yields a number of benefits for both the teacher and the learner: it can help pupils to construct their own understanding, promote memory, increase motivation and give a partial answer to the ever-present question of 'Why do we have to do this?�

'The reason for pupils' difficulty is explained not in terms of the conceptual complexity of the subject matter, but in terms of its apparent irrelevance and/or the teacher's inability to present it in a coherent, meaningful way.' (Quilter and Harper, 1988: 127)

However, not all contexts are equally useful or even equally valid for use in the mathematics classroom. There are important philosophical and pedagogical issues that influence how you choose contexts and how pupils come to learn the mathematics embedded within them. This chapter will explore some of those issues and offer you ideas about how you might organise your teaching, so that you can present mathematics in context for the benefit of your pupils.

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