An exploration of the design and development of a semi-integrated curriculum for a mathematical literacy course offered in a B-Ed. programme at a South African university.
An exploration of the design and development of a Semi-Integrated Curriculum conceptualized for the Mathematical Literacy module, offered as part of the Bachelor of Education course, was conducted at the University of Zululand, South Africa. The research focussed on exploring the feasibility and sustainability of integrating various curriculum elements, namely: context, content, and a set of predetermined essential skills and concepts. The research further explored the effectiveness of consolidating essential skills and concepts prior to the introduction of context-based problems. The appropriate level at which those elements should be integrated was also investigated. Another significant objective of the study was to explore the extent to which Higher Order Thinking Skills could be developed and sustained by a curricular innovation such as the Semi-Integrated Curriculum. The mathematical-literacy-related competency levels attained at school by first-year students in the Faculty of Education and reinforced by the first-year university mathematical literacy module, were of concern to the faculty. A need for significantly improving the mathematical literacy competency levels of students across majors was therefore the principal rationale of this research. Non-science major students made up a large portion of the Faculty of Education’s student population. Ensuring a satisfactory level of mathematical literacy in the student teachers across the faculty was thus imperative. Based on a qualitative research paradigm, this research used a case-study research method that involved a single case study with multiple units of analysis. The research was guided by the overarching research question related to the design and development of a Semi-Integrated Curriculum, the answer to which was constructed by the five sub-questions that were simultaneously answered. Ten student participants were selected from the first-year mathematical literacy student cohort. These students were taken through a series of specially designed mathematical literacy teaching and learning sessions. The content matter taught was designed according to the Semi-Integrated Curriculum format. A pre-test administered prior to the contact sessions and a post-test administered after the contact sessions indicated levels of attainment and the influence the curricular intervention had had on the participants’ mathematical performance. The post-test also incorporated tasks that were designed to measure the levels of attainment of Higher Order Thinking Skills. Data collected included semi-structured interviews with the participants conducted before and after the contact sessions; and an interview with the Head of Department. Sources of data collected also included informal working of participants gathered during contact sessions, curriculum materials published by the faculty, and relevant literature. Examination, test and assignment papers were also analysed to assess the level at which the current curriculum functioned and to explore the improvements needed. Excerpts from transcripts of interviews and faculty curriculum documents were thematically analysed to determine initial categories which were later reduced to themes and concepts. The analysis focussed on deriving a broad understanding of the purpose with which the mathematical literacy course currently functioned, and possible changes in the formulation the purpose itself. The analysis also focussed on the formulation of a set of aspects that characterized the Semi-Integrated Curriculum. The influence of Higher Order Thinking Skills and their sustainability were also aspects that were scrutinised. The effect of a Semi-Integrated Curriculum on the development of mathematical-literacy-related competencies and Higher Order Thinking Skills were explored, in accordance with the conceptual framework that envisaged significant levels of attainment in such aspects of learning. Pre-test and post-test scripts were also analysed to ascertain the levels of attainment of mathematical literacy competencies, and the extent to which Higher Order Thinking Skills were fostered and sustained. The results indicated that a focussed curricular intervention such as the Semi-Integrated Curriculum does have an effect on the general mathematical-literacy-related competencies. However, major changes in the levels of attainment could not be established. The development and sustainability of Higher Order Thinking Skills were also noticed at a relatively low level despite instances of satisfactory performances from participants that were noteworthy. However, significant changes in the approach to learning and the influence that a curricular focus on Higher Order Thinking Skills can have on learning were remarkable. Participants developed noticeable positive changes in their mathematical learning approach that placed a heavy emphasis on conceptual mastery as opposed to procedural focus; which in turn led to changes in the attainment of Higher Order Thinking Skills. The significance of this research is, therefore, that curricular interventions focussing on consolidation of Essential Skills and Concepts prior to the introduction of context-based problems, in a mathematical literacy context, underpinned by an emphasis on Higher Order Thinking Skills, do produce positive changes in mathematical literacy competencies.
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