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An investigation of a mathematics intervention programme for first year at risk student teachers
This study was prompted by concerns regarding the state of mathematics teaching and learning in the South African education system. One of the contributory factors to this situation is the lack of qualified and competent mathematics teachers. The problem is exacerbated by matriculants who enter teacher education programmes with a poor grasp of mathematical concepts and, in some cases, an associated dislike for the subject. Such students are described as being at risk of failing their first year mathematics courses in the teacher education programme. Although these at risk students are exposed to mathematics education within teacher education programmes, many of them graduate and return to the classroom, without having overcome their innate dislike for the subject. This has resulted in a vicious cycle in which newly graduated teachers return to the classroom and continue to contribute to the production of matriculants who produce poor mathematics results and have an aversion for the subject. This dissertation reports on a case study of first year at risk student teachers studying towards a Bachelor of Education (GET phase) at a South African university. The study investigated how a mathematics intervention programme (MIP), shaped student teachers’ perceptions of learning and teaching mathematics. The theoretical background to the research problem was acquired by examining four areas of the following literature, viz. students’ perceptions of learning and teaching mathematics; effective mathematics intervention programmes; theoretical perspectives of learning and teaching strategies associated with mathematics; and activity theory as a theoretical framework in examining the study of learning activities of student teachers. The empirical investigation which was underpinned by an interpretivist paradigm collected and analysed qualitative data from amongst a sample of the student teachers in the MIP. The principal source of evidence was interview transcripts, which was supplemented by test scores, and written and graphical reflections of the student teachers experiences. Activity theory was used as a lens to analyse the evidence. The research findings are therefore contextualized within an activity theory (AT) framework. Insofar as the outcomes of the MIP are concerned, the evidence confirms that the at risk student teachers’ perceptions of learning and teaching mathematics, in the sample that was selected for the study, had changed. There are three indicators of this, namely: the results of the final component of the interviews during which the subjects’ responses, through the use of sort cards, indicate that their motivation, attitude and confidence to learn mathematics had improved since they commenced participating in the MIP; the improved mathematics marks amongst the subjects; and the written and graphical reflections of the subjects on their mathematics experiences in the MIP which portrayed a positive attitude towards mathematics and mathematics learning. The results also reveal that the student teachers’ activities within the various components of the activity system did not exist in isolation from one another but rather within a system of dynamic and continuous change. Thus the usefulness of AT is borne out. This study concludes that the mathematics intervention programme had a positive effect on the at risk student teachers’ perceptions with regard to the following: Firstly, improving the student teachers’ attitudes to, and level of confidence in learning mathematics. Secondly by providing student teachers an opportunity to be exposed to teaching strategies that could be used when conducting mathematics lessons during practice teaching or as future mathematics teachers. Thirdly, improving student teachers’ mathematics performance. Overall the study provides insight into how interventions can work in elevating the confidence of at risk students in a South African context. In particular the study highlights that it is indeed possible to break the vicious cycle of returning graduated student teachers with negative perceptions of mathematics into our classrooms.