The role of the affective domain in mathematics in Ireland: a comparative study between two cohorts of junior certificate students
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A new mathematics syllabus, called Project Maths was introduced on a phased basis for all Irish post-primary schools in September 2010. Project Maths promotes active learning, student understanding of mathematical concepts and has a key emphasis on problem-solving skills in unfamiliar contexts. This study set out to compare attitudes of two cohorts of Junior Certificate (Year 2) students to mathematics. Cohort 1 (n= 128) students had followed the traditional pre Project Maths syllabus while Cohort 2 (n = 138) students had been exposed to strands 1 and 2 of the new Project Maths initiative. The study sample involved students from five post-primary school types in the North West region of Ireland. An attitudinal questionnaire, student worksheet and semi-structured interviews were used to generate quantitative and qualitative data. Cohort 2 students reported statistically significant higher mean scores for five of the seven affective variables compared to Cohort 1 students with both Cohorts having above average scores for anxiety. Importantly, Cohort 1 students reported statistically higher (p < .0005) mean scores for mathematical understanding; however Cohort 2 students did better on problem-solving questions. Cohort 2 students reported difficulties with classroom pacing and the text-heavy emphasis of Project Maths questions. Student attitudes to mathematics were not found to be correlated to examination success for both Cohorts. Favourable feedback was received on active learning methodologies from Cohort 2 students. Overall, the introduction of Projects Maths has led to improved scores in key affective variables. However, concerns around student mathematical understanding, classroom pacing and high anxiety levels remain. Recommendations are offered to address these issues.
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