Paper 2: Wicked problems and critical judgments in school mathematics

Book chapter

Steffensen, L., Herheim, R., & Rangnes, T. E. (2019). Wicked problems and critical judgment in school mathematics. In N. S. Kennedy & E. Marsal (Eds.), Dialogical Inquiry in Mathematics Teaching and Learning: A Philosophical Approach. Berlin: LIT Verlag.

This chapter concerns how wicked problems and critical judgment can be a part of school mathematics. To understand and make critical judgments on climate change involves: competencies form several subjects; knowledge about the political and economic impact of climate change; and involves value-perspective and ethical and moral issues. Critical judgments should be well-reasoned, include good arguments and evidence, reflect multiple perspectives, survive critical dialogue, and relevant to personal experience. The focus of the chapter is on value-aspects of climate change – and how critical judgments in the mathematics classroom can be facilitated; in particular, how teachers’ values can influence their teaching by investigating their facilitation and reflections of value-aspect in regards to climate change in school mathematics. The conceptual framework constitutes of theory from critical mathematics education, on the concepts controversies and values. The empirical data was collected through a one-year research partnership between a researcher from teacher education and three mathematics and natural science teachers from lower secondary school. The chapter reflects on two teaching activities; a poster and a quiz related to an exhibition, and a dialogue game.

We found that values and controversies in climate change can influence teachers’ facilitation of critical mathematics education by for instance choosing different question in the quiz, or choosing different numbers and graphs to emphasise particular climate change issues (e.g. small temperature changes or extensive ice melting). Furthermore, the teachers emphasised differently; while one teacher emphasised that students could act and create a better future, one teacher emphasised on enabling students to find their own answer and critically engage in how mathematics is used in argumentation. In our opinion, climate change is a major challenge that should be included in mathematics education, both in research and practice. Exploring how teachers find opportunities in the tension between facilitating action and facilitating critical thinking is crucial to address. We consider it as an opportunity, as well as a challenge, to engage students in wicked problem and critical judgment within the frames of a school context.