An exploration of mathematical literacy teachers' perceptions of, and performance in mathematical literacy tasks based on algebra.
Mathematical Literacy (ML) has only recently been introduced to learners, and research in South Africa concerning learners’ conceptual understanding in ML is not widely available. However an important predictor of learners’ success or difficulties in concepts is the success or difficulties that in-service teachers experience themselves. It is therefore important for us as mathematics educators to identify areas in Mathematical Literacy that teachers are struggling to learn and apply. With this in mind, the study sets to explore teachers’ perceptions about, and performance in Mathematical Literacy tasks based on algebraic concepts. This study is located within the principles of the qualitative research case study approach. The combination of data collection techniques has allowed me to identify broad trends across the group as a whole as well as differences within the participants of the group itself. The participants of the study were a class of 17 students who were completing the ACEML programme at UKZN. Four sources of data were used. Firstly, data was generated from teachers’ reflections about certain tasks, the solution of which required the use of algebra. A second data collection instrument was an open-form questionnaire and the third instrument was two unstructured interviews with two teachers. The final instrument was the analysis of the teachers’ examination scripts. For this study, teachers from this group were classified along the lines of whether they were qualified to teach mathematics or not. The theoretical framework for the study was derived from the OECD/PISA (2003) cycle of mathematisation which specifies 5 aspects of mathematisation, together with the theory of reification. For the purpose of this research, a participant was considered as a “mathematics specialist” if s/he studied mathematics up to tertiary level, while a participant was considered as “non-mathematics teacher” if s/he studied mathematics only up to Grade 12 level. The findings reveal that although the teachers conveyed varying understandings of the ML curriculum, they believed that knowledge of basic algebra was necessary and adequate for them to deal with ML problems. Furthermore the teachers believed mathematical teaching experience contributes to improved problem solving in ML and that ‘practice and familiarity’ helped teachers improve their problem solving skills in ML. They also voiced a concern that the pace of the programme constituted a barrier to their success. Within the group, it was found that Mathematics specialist teachers performed better than the non-Mathematics teachers. All teachers found the mathematisation aspects of solving the mathematical problem and of reinterpreting the mathematical solution to make sense of the real-life problems, challenging, while the non-Mathematics teachers experienced problems with all five aspects of mathematisation. The findings of the study suggest that teachers need help in moving from lower levels to higher levels of mathematisation. Opportunities for mathematical modeling experiences need to be incorporated in the part-time in-service contact courses like ACEML. Further research is needed to inform education authorities about whether the use of teachers with only grade 12 mathematical knowledge to teach ML is advisable.