Mathematics or numeracy: education indications from Steiner and the New Zealand curriculum

Waite, Lesley
Begg, Andy
Boland, Neil
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Master of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

Mathematics education has been of considerable concern in New Zealand for several decades. During the 1990s, following the Education Act 1989 in which a quantifiable market value approach was imposed onto education, curricula changes and international mathematics and science surveys exposed low achievement levels among New Zealand students. A concentration upon number and algebra as ‘numeracy’ for years 1-10 in New Zealand schools was offered through the Numeracy Development Projects from 1999, and included programmes of pedagogical and mathematical content knowledge for teachers as well as resources and information for parents. By 2006 most New Zealand schools had taken up the Numeracy Projects, which are based on social constructivism and use a strategy-knowledge method with regular diagnosis of the student’s level of understanding.

Social constructivism, as a philosophical approach to mathematics education, appears to be inconsistent with a market value ideology. As a contrast to both views, Rudolf Steiner’s indications for mathematics education are centred on the development of the child; slowly maturing physiologically and cognitively towards the intellectual capacity for critical judgement. While the New Zealand Ministry of Education and Steiner provide indications only for mathematics education upon which the mainstream and Steiner Waldorf schools build their classroom curriculum, the 2009 legislation of National Standards in Numeracy unmasks the level of political control of mathematics education now in New Zealand.

This thesis uses a hermeneutic / bricolage method to review literature on the socio-cultural historical progression towards this 21st century position of mathematics or numeracy in New Zealand schools. It also introduces Rudolf Steiner and the foundational views of his educational approach. The Steiner Waldorf schools in New Zealand were initially privately funded, but eight of the present eleven schools integrated into state support through The Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975, with varying degrees of financial aid coupled to a change of priorities and consequent amendments to classroom practices, especially in mathematics.

As mathematics is considered a language for thinking, this thesis presents some diagrammatic representations of mathematical thinking including a conjecture of the impact of the process towards algebraic thinking emphasised in the Numeracy Projects and National Standards. Future research in the classroom is needed to examine this conjecture.

New Zealand mathematics education , Steiner mathematics , Numeracy projects , Socio-cultural history of mathematics , Mathematics and thinking , Hermeneutic bricolage
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