Exploring the Co-Development of Mathematical and Technological Knowledge Among African American Students

Exploring the Co-Development of Mathematical and Technological Knowledge Among African American Students

Francis Nzuki (Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/jicte.2011040104
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This study examines African American students’ interactions with the graphing calculator as a tool to support their mathematical learning. Two participants, chosen through purposive sampling, were the focus of this study. The participants were presented with a task-based interview, and the strategies they employed in solving these tasks with the help of a graphing calculator were examined. The participants’ strategies were analyzed using Goos, Galbraith, Renshaw, and Geiger’s (2003) framework of the varying modes of sophistication with which students work and interact with technology and the ways in which technology can mediate learning. These modes include technology as master, technology as servant, technology as partner, and technology as an extension of self. In solving the mathematical tasks, the participants’ modes of interacting with the graphing calculator technology were influenced by how and when they chose to use the graphing calculator. They were also influenced by their ability to reinforce their mathematical and technological knowledge mutually. It is this ability to develop an interactive relationship between mathematical and technological knowledge that shaped the participants’ fluency in solving the mathematical tasks.
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Several reports have documented underachievement and limited persistence of African American1 students in mathematics (Delpit, 1995; Ladson-Billings, 1995; Martin, 2000, 2003; Oakes, 1985; Perry, Claude, & Hilliard, 2003; Stinson, 2006; Tate, 1997b). Further, studies reveal that at both high school and collegiate levels advanced mathematics classes have mainly White and Asian American students, while remedial mathematics classes contain disproportionate number of African American students (Martin, 2003; Moses & Cobb, 2001; Tate, 1997b). While there are disturbingly low rates of mathematics achievement among students of color, data from the 2003 Mathematics Assessment of The National Assessment Educational Progress revealed that compared to other students of color—Hispanic, Asian/Pacific islanders, and American Indian/Alaska native students—African American students scored lower on average in both the fourth and eighth grade (Braswell, Daane, & Grigg, 2003).

Further, in discussing equity issues in mathematics, the use of technology in classrooms has been recommended as useful in helping engage low-SES2 and students of color in learning that encourage them to use complex thinking skills in mathematics (Hennessy & Dunham, 2002). The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) (2000) argues that “technological tools and environments can give all [emphasis added] students opportunities to explore complex problems and mathematical ideas” (p. 13). In addition, NCTM posits that technology can attract students who disengage from non-technological approaches to mathematics and that all students should have opportunities to use technology in appropriate ways that will afford them access to interesting and important mathematical ideas. On the other hand, students need to have sufficient technological knowledge in order for them to use the technology appropriately. When technology produces ill-fitted or unsuitable results, students can use their mathematical knowledge to foster the development of their technological knowledge in order to correct or interpret the output of the technology. Thus, while the use of technology can augment students’ learning of mathematics, their mathematical knowledge can foster the acquisition of more knowledge of technological tools. As such, through the opportunities afforded to them to interact with technology when learning mathematics, it is worth examining the dialectic relationship between the technological knowledge that low-SES and students of color develop and their mathematical knowledge.

The study reported in this article is derived from previous work (Nzuki, 2008) and examines African American students’ development of an interactive relationship between their mathematical and technological knowledge when using graphing calculators to solve mathematical tasks. The study was guided by the following research question:

What interactive relationship between technological and mathematical knowledge do African American students at a low-SES school develop?

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