Publication 6709

Cobb P. (2000) Constructivism in social context. In: Steffe L. P. & Thompson P. (eds.) Radical constructivism in action: Building on the pioneering work of Ernst von Glasersfeld. Falmer Press, London: 152–178. Fulltext at
In this chapter, I focus on one of the aspects of constructivist theory that Glasersfeld (Ch. 1) identifies as in need of further development. This aspect of the theory involves locating students’ mathematical development in social and cultural context while simultaneously treating learning as a process of adaptive reorganization. In addressing this issue, I illustrate the approach that I and my colleagues currently take when accounting for the process of students’ mathematical learning as it occurs in the social context of the classroom. In the opening section of the chapter, I clarify why this is a significant issue for us as mathematics educators. I then outline my general theoretical orientation by discussing Glasersfeld’s constructivism and Bauersfeld’s interactionism. Against this background, I develop criteria for classroom analyses that are relevant to our interests as researchers who develop learning environments for students in collaboration with teachers. Next, I illustrate the interpretive framework that I and my colleagues currently use by presenting a sample classroom analysis. Finally, in the concluding sections of the chapter, I reflect on the sample analysis to address four more general issues. These concern the contributions of analyses of the type outlined in the illustrative example, the relationship between instructional design and classroom-based research, the role of symbols and other tools in mathematical learning, and the relation between individual students’ mathematical activity and communal classroom processes.

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