What’s the problem?

A new issue of Instructional Science has been published, and it contains an interesting article by Annika Lantz-Andersson, Jonas Linderoth and Roger Säljö: What’s the problem? Meaning making and learning to do mathematical word problems in the context of digital tools. A major presumption in their article is that problems which are given in a mathematics classroom will be interpreted differently by the students than problems which are given in social studies class, or outside of school. Theoretically, they thereby build upon the theories of Lave, Wenger and others concerning the situated nature of learning and human reasoning. In this article, their focus is on the mathematical reasoning of students when using digital tools in a mathematics classroom context. Here is the abstract of their article:

The general background of this study is an interest in how digital tools contribute to structuring learning activities. The specific interest is to explore how such tools co-determine students’ reasoning when solving word problems in mathematics, and what kind of learning that follows. Theoretically the research takes its point of departure in a sociocultural perspective on the role of cultural tools in thinking, and in a complementary interest in the role of the communicative framing of cognitive activities. Data have been collected through video documentation of classroom activities in secondary schools where multimedia tools are integrated into mathematics teaching. The focus of the analysis is on cases where the students encounter some kind of difficulty. The results show how the tool to a significant degree co-determines the meaning making practices of students. Thus, it is not a passive element in the situation; rather it invites certain types of activities, for instance iterative computations that do not necessarily rely on an analysis of the problems to be solved. For long periods of time the students’ activities are framed within the context of the tool, and they do not engage in discussing mathematics at all when solving the problems. It is argued that both from a practical and theoretical point of view it is important to scrutinize what competences students develop when using tools of this kind.

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