Endeavouring to teach mathematical problem solving from a constructivist perspective: the experiences of primary teachers
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The Irish primary mathematics curriculum is based upon a constructivist philosophy of learning. As constructivism is a theory of learning and not teaching, it requires teachers to identify the implications for teaching. This study describes the experiences of five primary teachers as they attempt to explore mathematical problem-solving from a constructivist perspective with primary school children in Ireland. The key question upon which the research is based is: to what extent will an understanding of constructivism and its implications for the classroom impact on teaching practices within the senior primary mathematical problem-solving classroom? Constructivist theory has evolved from early learner centred education initiatives but the impetus for the constructivist movement of the twentieth century can be attributed to Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky. Several perspectives on constructivism have evolved with the emergent perspective on constructivism being central to the Irish primary mathematics curriculum. Following the involvement of five primary teachers in a professional development initiative involving constructivism in the context of mathematical problem-solving, case study was employed to record the teachers’ experiences and the experiences of their students as they engaged in a constructivist approach to problem-solving in the classroom. These case studies reveal primary teachers’ interpretations of constructivist philosophy and the implications for teaching in a primary mathematics classroom. The study identifies effective strategies for exploring mathematical problems from a constructivist perspective. The study also illuminates the difficulties in making the transition from utilising traditional methods of teaching mathematics to employing those teaching strategies that reflect constructivist philosophy.
Mathematical problem solving