Tracing student experience using mathematics autobiographies

Jennifer Hall, Jo Towers

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


In North America, many students develop a fear of and/or dislike for mathematics during their elementary and secondary school years, and these negative feelings tend to persist into adulthood (Boaler, 2008). To better understand Canadian students’ experiences, and the ways that these negative feelings may develop as a result of school experiences, we designed a project to explore research questions that address: (1) students’ lived experiences of learning mathematics in Canadian schools, (2) the images of mathematics that students are developing in Canadian schools and how they persist over time, (3) the nature of students’ mathematical identities, and (4) the role teachers and schools play in shaping these identities. The study draws on enactivism, a theory of embodied cognition that emphasizes the interrelationship of cognition and emotion in learning and that troubles the positioning of self and identity as purely individual (and static) phenomena (Varela, Thompson, & Rosch, 1991). Data collection for the project has begun, and will continue in Alberta and Ontario for the next two years. Participants include students ranging from Kindergarten to the university level, as well as members of the general public. Drawing on narrative inquiry methodology (Clandinin, 2007), we are collecting mathematics autobiographies from the participants in a variety of formats: written narratives, drawings, and individual interviews. Analysis involves both emergent and thematic coding, and findings will be presented in creative multimedia formats, such as composite cases and Wordles. Preliminary findings are revealing important connections between students’ identity formation in relation to mathematics and both the nature of the teaching and learning they experienced in school and the significance of their wider context, including parental influences. These initial findings suggest that this rich source of autobiographical data will assist teachers and policy-makers in understanding their roles in shaping students’ experiences and mathematical outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes
EventAnnual Conference of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education 2014 - Vancouver, Canada
Duration: 15 Jul 201420 Jul 2014
Conference number: 38th


ConferenceAnnual Conference of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education 2014
Abbreviated titlePME 2014
Internet address

Cite this

Hall, J., & Towers, J. (2014). Tracing student experience using mathematics autobiographies. 91. Abstract from Annual Conference of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education 2014, Vancouver, Canada.