The first theme considered for the Centres for Excellence in Maths programme was contextualisation (Theme 3). This is defined as being engagement with mathematical ideas and structures in real-world situations. This is seen as supporting learning itself as well as preparing students to apply their maths effectively and successfully in daily life, workplace settings and broader social, economic, political and environmental activity.
Contextualisation can motivate students by highlighting the practical relevance and usefulness of the maths they are using, and it can support students in forming a relationship with mathematics based on its use-value and not simply the exchange value of their maths qualification.
Contextualisation is not a simple process; in an educational setting it is the object of study whereas in the workplace it is a tool to support successful outcomes. Good contextualisation approaches require a detailed understanding of both the mathematical content and the real-world situation. In practice, the use of contexts can actually add more complexity to a problem by requiring more literacy, comprehension and interpretation skills, and students may need to be explicitly taught how to engage with contextualised problems.
In planning our use of contexts, we need to ask:
Doing this well requires will require us to:
This very short summary was adapted from a briefing by Professor Geoff Wake of the University of Nottingham. His paper on “Making sense of and with mathematics: the interface between academic mathematics and mathematics in practice” can be found in Educational Studies in Mathematics, 86, No. 2 (2014): 271–290.
You may also find it useful to consult the MEI checklist of questions to consider when developing contextualised resources.
Further information on the Centres for Excellence in Maths programme and it’s key themes can be found on the Education and Training Foundation website.