An investigation into learner perceptions of mathematics : a means to understanding the challenges of learning mathematics
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The purpose of this study was to investigate the experiences and perceptions that learners have in the maths class with the aim of determining learners’ attitude to maths. It also intended to identify and understand the challenges that maths learners face in the maths class. The findings from this investigation would be used in the development of strategies to (a) improve the attitude of learners in the maths class, (b) develop healthier self-efficacy beliefs in learners and (c) create a positive learning environment for maths learners. To this end, a poster activity and group interview were used as the data collection instruments for the qualitative part of the research. The poster activity entailed the development of a poster by learners in which they recorded information on their experiences and perceptions of maths. This highlighted emerging themes that were further explored in the group interview and used in the development of the questionnaire. A group interview was conducted with a select group of learners with the intention of confirming the themes that had emerged from the poster activity. The quantitative phase of the study included a questionnaire, the design of which was based on the findings from the poster activity and was administered to all grade eleven learners of maths in order to determine whether the findings from the poster activity were representative of all the grade eleven maths learners. These data collection instruments generated data that was used to answer the main research questions. Analysis and interpretation of the findings lead to the following conclusions being reached: (a) Learner attitude to maths is in part a product of the accumulated experiences and perceptions of learners in the maths class, (b) The teacher, peers and learners’ self-efficacy beliefs affect maths learning and (c) The learning environment is an important factor in maths learning. The final part of the write-up includes the implications that this research has for the practising maths teacher with suggestions for further research in the area of affect.