What is subject content knowledge in mathematics? On the implications for student teachers’ competence and confidence in teaching mathematics

Sheila Henderson, Brian Hudson

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


    This paper builds on the findings of recent studies into the levels of mathematical competence and confidence of primary student teachers. The data from these studies were based on the use of an online assessment tool and surveys of the students who participated in its use. The findings highlighted that students’ subject knowledge was often lacking when assessed using the online assessment. It was also found that those students possessing more advanced mathematics qualifications were less likely to display competence in primary mathematics and that their confidence levels in the subject were lower than their less well qualified peers. These rather unexpected findings were confirmed in a subsequent study and in this paper we reflect on the possible reasons for why this might the case. The importance of the teachers’ role in relation to the confidence shown by pupils was highlighted nearly thirty years ago in the Cockcroft Report which emphasised the way in which a teacher in every lesson conveys, even unconsciously, a message about mathematics which will influence the pupil’s attitude. We argue that these findings point towards the importance of teachers’ beliefs about the nature of mathematics and also draw attention to the contested nature of mathematics itself as a discipline. In particular we are interested in exploring the extent to which student teachers bring with them attitudes based on a strict mathematical formalism, in contrast to a more informal and fallibilistic view. We see the former as being distorted into a form of “mathematical fundamentalism” that can be characterised by absolutism, dogma, strict procedures, rule following and right and wrong answers. The paper reports on findings from a second phase of this research programme in the form of a follow up study into the attitudes and beliefs of student teachers in the Autumn Term 2010
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 2010
    EventTeacher Education Policy in Europe (TEPE) Conference 2010 - Tallinn, Estonia
    Duration: 30 Sept 20102 Oct 2010


    ConferenceTeacher Education Policy in Europe (TEPE) Conference 2010
    Internet address


    • Mathematics
    • Teacher training
    • Primary school teachers
    • Competency
    • Teaching


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