Appropriating geometric series as a cultural tool

A couple of new articles have been published online in Educational Studies in Mathematics lately, amongst those a very interesting one by my good colleague Martin Carlsen from the University of Agder, Norway. His article is entitled: Appropriating geometric series as a cultural tool: a study of student collaborative learning. Carlsen, along with other colleagues in Agder, have been influenced by the focus on small-group problem solving that was advocated by Neil Davidson and others some years ago. The Agder group is also strongly influenced by theories related to sociocultural perspectives of teaching and learning mathematics, and this article provides a nice overview of some of these theoretical foundations. The research reported in this article can be placed within a qualitative, naturalistic paradigm, and the data were analyzed using a dialogical approach (Carlsen here makes use of a framework developed by two other colleagues: Maria-Luiza Cestari and Raymond Bjuland). So, if you are interested in any of the perspectives referred to above, this article should be highly relevant for you! Here is the abstract of the article:

The aim of this article is to illustrate how students, through collaborative small-group problem solving, appropriate the concept of geometric series. Student appropriation of cultural tools is dependent on five sociocultural aspects: involvement in joint activity, shared focus of attention, shared meanings for utterances, transforming actions and utterances and use of pre-existing cultural knowledge from the classroom in small-group problem solving. As an analytical point of departure, four mathematical theoretical components are identified when appropriating the cultural tool of geometric series: (1) estimating of parameters, (2) establishing of the general term, (3) composing of the sum and (4) deciding on convergence. Analyses of five excerpts focused on the students’ social processes of knowledge objectification and the corresponding semiotic means, i.e., lecture notes, linguistic devices, gestures, head movements and gaze, to obtain shared foci and meanings. The investigation of these processes unveils the manner in which the students established links to pre-existing mathematical knowledge in the classroom and how they simultaneously combined the various mathematical theoretical components that go into appropriating the cultural tool of geometric series. From the excerpts, it is evident that the students’ participation changes throughout their involvement in the problem-solving process. The students are gaining mathematical knowing through a process of transforming and by establishing shared meanings for the concept and its theoretical components.

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