The thrill of data collection: revelations and reflections from the field.

I had a bit of a shock this week: I love data collection.

I know that I am prone to hyperbole, but in this case my statement is 100% accurate. I LOVE data collection and far more than I expected to.

At the time of publishing I have surveyed the class I am working with and interviewed four students: this is my ‘time 1’ (or ‘pre-intervention’) data collection. Generally speaking, I do not complete any uni work over the weekend. The luxury of being a full-time uni student and working casually is that I can complete most of my work during the day, leaving night-time and weekends of relaxation and socialising. This is particularly important for me as I’m prone to working obsessively and such a schedule helps to maintain a work-life balance.  

This weekend was a different story. Whilst I managed a breakfast date, a beach photography session, and a run, my desire to indulge myself in study couldn’t be suppressed. I spent the weekend pouring over survey responses, looking for trends, and considering reasons behind the students’ answers. It was the most fun I’ve had completing uni work in a long time.

On Monday and Tuesday I completed four 25-minute interviews, purposefully selected to represent a range of students. The result of this was a rather rude introduction to completing transcriptions. “They’re just a twenty-minute interview” I thought naively “how long can it take?”

A while. It took a while.

Each interview is between 2000 and 2500 words. It takes a not-insignificant length of time to type out that many words: thank goodness twenty-years of piano-playing have resulted in me having fairly adept typing skills.

It was draining, but it was so enjoyable. I have never experienced an academic challenge so deeply satisfying as developing your own study and exploring your own data. It’s brilliant. The luxury of spending two hours speaking in-depth with students about what they think and feel about mathematics is the best professional development I have ever experienced.

I feel personally connected to the data: I want to understand it, I want to reflect on it in light of literature I have spent the last two years reading. I am surprised at a number of trends that have emerged from the data (bearing in mind the data is collected from an advanced year nine class in a co-educational independent school in regional NSW). This is in no way a comprehensive or complete list, and I’ve purposely kept data as ambiguous as possible (given that it’s unpublished at present) however, the following points are of interest:

  • Students value maths. Highly. Literature I have read suggests that mathematics is socially devalued and that it is ‘cool to hate maths.’ Surprisingly, students indicated the contrary to be true, stating time and time again that mathematics, along with science and English are ‘core’ subjects and integral to school and career success.
  • Students like connections between what’s being taught and ‘real-life’ to be made explicit. Yes, not everything we teach in mathematics (like most subjects) is directly relevant to real life. Nonetheless, learning should be contextualised. For example ‘this algebra skill leads into these topics in senior that underpin these careers’ or ‘this year 10 topic on exponentials leads into a topic in senior mathematics on growth and decay that has many applications in biology and chemistry’ and so forth.
  • Students believed that if you work hard you can achieve success, and that a positive ‘mindset’ is a key factor in improvements in educational outcomes.
  • Students believed that intelligence and talent are both malleable, although you’re born with a certain amount of intelligence.
  • Time and time again students emphasised the importance of the teacher and the teacher’s explanations in generating understanding. They valued clear, logical explanations and the teacher following-up any misunderstandings with students.
  • Students find peer-to-peer interactions useful in generating understanding. They appreciate their peers can provide an alternate, “lay-man’s” explanation of concepts they are struggling with.

I strongly implore teachers to consider a research-based masters, or a masters with a strong research component. It’s fantastic. You get to learn about the things that interest you. It’s (currently) covered by the Research Training Scheme (RTS) which means it’s FREE (yes, free). It’s highly flexible: with fewer deadlines I can work easily around my schedule. For example, some weeks I work a lot or am really social. I don’t get much study done those weeks but I compensate for it at other times when I have less on my plate. In completing a coursework masters there are more frequent, shorter, deadlines. For some people that is necessary – or else study would get shoved to the back of the pile of things to never be completed. Personally I much prefer it: picking a topic that completely fascinates you is crucial for this.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be completing in-class observations, something I’m incredibly excited about. I am fortunate to be working with a teacher I deeply admire and respect and I believe I will learn a lot from them that will enhance my teaching practice.

I’m interested to hear from other teachers that have chosen to complete their masters via research: what was your experiences? What did you perceive to be the advantages and disadvantages of studying via research versus coursework?

Madeline.

Read my post about the journey beginning data collection here

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About madelinebevs

Mathematics teacher and researcher. Runner. I'm excited by mathematics education. Having taught high-school mathematics for several years I am currently studying a Master of Education (Honours) in mathematics education, with the aim to ‘upgrade’ to a PhD later this year. My research is addressing how the constructivist epistemology (more specifically explicit instruction in metacognitive and self-reflective strategies) influences students’ affective domain. Mathematics education and research excites me greatly. I’m thrilled that I have the opportunity to write and work in this area. This blog will be (mostly) a collection of opinion pieces published several times a week on contemporary issues in mathematics education, with an Australian focus. More often than not topics will be generated from recent news headlines.
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