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Thematic Teaching and Student Engagement in a  Non-Academic Year 12 Mathematics Course

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posted on 11.11.2021, 22:26 by Pomeroy, David Charles Hay

The recently revised New Zealand Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2007) encourages mathematics teachers to engage their students through the use of meaningful contexts for learning. One approach to making contexts for mathematics more meaningful is to explore a single context over a series of lessons, an approach known as thematic teaching. Prior studies of thematic mathematics teaching have failed to reach a consensus on the relationship between thematic teaching and student outcomes such as achievement and attitude toward learning. This study used a pragmatic, mixed methods design to examine the relationship between thematic teaching and student engagement with two classes of low-achieving senior students in a New Zealand secondary school. It examined which student characteristics appeared to be related to whether students engaged with thematic teaching, and the reason students gave for their preferred teaching styles. Students experienced four thematic lessons with the theme of the human settlement of the Pacific Islands and four non-thematic lessons during a coordinate geometry topic. Each student‟s engagement was assessed every lesson using questionnaires and observations, and students were interviewed in order to elicit their views on thematic teaching. Collectively, no difference was found between student engagement in thematic and non-thematic teaching. However, many individual students found either thematic or non-thematic teaching more engaging. English language learners tended to prefer non-thematic teaching, some reporting that they found the theme an unhelpful complication. There is preliminary evidence that Pakeha students may engage with thematic teaching to a greater extent than Pasifika students. Students did not engage in learning when they did not understand the mathematical content, even when they were interested in the theme. The study augments the thematic mathematics teaching literature by examining variability in the apparent effects of thematic teaching, and articulating students‟ experiences of thematic teaching. It gives guarded support for the current policy emphasis on teaching mathematics contextually and reveals some potential pitfalls associated with teaching mathematics thematically.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Education

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Education Policy and Implementation


Averill, Robin