Literature in educational psychology supports utility value, or perceived usefulness, as a core intrinsic motivator for learning. However, in mathematics students often struggle to perceive usefulness due to the common disconnect between content and context. There are several factors potentially contributing to this disconnect including story problems that do not connect to students' own lives, a lack of opportunities for students to form their own conceptions of math's usefulness, and emphasis on practicing math skills over applying math knowledge. Connecting content and context requires understanding what math content students include in their definitions of mathematics. How students define math may influence the types of math they are able to see in their own lives, and thus has the potential to limit or bolster connections between in-class math instruction and its applicability. Thus, I use this study to explore these questions: How do middle school students define mathematics? How do those definitions connect with or relate to their ideas of math utility? To answer these questions, interviews were conducted with 7th- and 8th-grade students attending an urban charter school in the Mountain West. Students were asked about their definitions of math; as well as when, where, and how it may be used. Student responses were coded and analyzed to consider potential connections between students' definitions of math and perceptions of its utility. Understanding this relationship is critical for teachers to improve math instruction by tapping into their students' intrinsic motivation for math learning.
University / Institution: University of Utah
Format: In Person
SESSION A (9:00-10:30AM)
Area of Research: Education
Faculty Mentor: Tracy Dobie