Developing mathematical thinking in the primary classroom: liberating students and teachers as learners of mathematics

Brian Hudson, Sheila Henderson, Alison Hudson

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    29 Citations (Scopus)


    This paper reports on a research study conducted with a group of practising primary school teachers (n = 24) in North East Scotland during 2011–2012. The teachers were all participants in a newly developed Masters course that had been designed with the aim of promoting the development of mathematical thinking in the primary classroom as part of project supported by the Scottish Government. The paper presents the background for this initiative within the context of the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence reform. Particular attention is given to the epistemological positioning of the researchers as this influenced both the curriculum design process and also the theoretical framing of the research study which are both described. The project was set up within a design research framework, which aimed to promote classroom-based action research on the part of participants through the course and also research by the university researchers into the process of curriculum development. The research questions focused on the teachers’ confidence, competence, attitudes and beliefs in relation to mathematics and their expectations and experiences of the impact on pupil learning arising from this course. Empirical data were drawn from pre- and post-course surveys, interviews and observations of the discussion forums in the online environment. Findings from this study highlight the way the course had a transformational and emancipatory impact on these teachers. They also highlight ways in which the ‘framing’ of particular aspects of the curriculum had an oppressive impact on learners in the ways that suppressed creativity and limited the exercise of learner autonomy. Furthermore, they highlight the ways in which a number of these teachers had experienced mathematics as a school subject in very negative ways, involving high levels of ‘symbolic violence’ and of being ‘labelled’.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)374-398
    Number of pages25
    JournalJournal of Curriculum Studies
    Issue number3
    Early online date17 Nov 2014
    Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2015


    • curriculum reform
    • epistemic quality
    • labelling
    • mathematical thinking
    • primary education
    • symbolic violence

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Education


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