Under construction: Learning mathematics across space and over time

Kara Jones Jackson, University of Pennsylvania


This study seeks to answer the question of how individuals learn mathematics across space and over time. Typically, the question of how individuals experience (dis)continuity across settings has either been framed through an account of "transfer" or through an account of "mismatch." Both accounts imply that the settings through which individuals move are static and oversimplify how individuals make their ways across space and time. Alternatively, I offer an account based on the theoretical premise that learning occurs across events as individuals interact with diverse sets of resources within and across settings (Stevens, Mertl, Levias, & McCarthy, 2006; Wortham, 2006). Taking the individual-in-interaction as a unit of analysis, I conducted an ethnographic study of the spaces that two low-income, ten-year-old, African American youth and their families inhabited over the course of fourteen months. The primary sites of data collection were a neighborhood elementary school, a charter middle school, adult math classes in the neighborhood, and two youth's homes. All sites were located in a large, northeastern city in the United States. First, I found that social relations were interwoven with mathematical activity across settings, and social constructions of mathematics were tightly coupled with social constructions of learners. Second, I showed how individuals' positioning and participation in mathematical activity was contingent on sequences of events in which teachers, peers, and families assembled heterogeneous sets of resources (Stevens et al., 2006). Third, a focus on trajectories of mathematical participation (Dreier, 2003) across settings highlighted that as individuals traveled across space, they demonstrated innovation in the context of routines. However, innovation in homes was often lost in travel back to school. Fourth, although the individual focal youth inhabited many of the same spaces throughout their childhood, their trajectories were unique and often unpredictable. Accounts of transfer suggest that learning is evidenced by reproduction of strategies or behaviors across settings; accounts of mismatch suggest that achievement is contingent on reproduction of practices across settings. Alternatively, based on the empirically-based account of learning mathematics across settings, I offer that instead of reproduction, educators might take innovation as evidence of learning.

Subject Area

Mathematics education|Educational sociology|Curricula|Teaching

Recommended Citation

Jackson, Kara Jones, "Under construction: Learning mathematics across space and over time" (2007). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3271771.