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Social and Behavioral Sciences

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 51 (2012) 867 - 872

ARTSEDU 2012

Examination in the terms of some variables of real life problems

with teacher candidates' eyes

Meryem Ozturan Sagirlia*, Sema Altun Yalcinb, Pasa Yalcinc

a University of Erzincan, Faculty of Education, Department of Elementary Education, Mathematics Education, Erzincan 2400, TURKEY b University of Erzincan, Faculty of Education, Department of Elementary Education, Science Education, Erzincan 2400, TURKEY c University of Erzincan, Faculty of Education, Department of Elementary Education, Science Education, Erzincan 2400, TURKEY

Abstract

One of the most important tools linking between schools and real life is real life problems. Real life problems are a type of problems that are prepared starting with the real life situations and necessitate an application of a real life. Solving thi s kind of problems allows students to apply theoretical knowledge, going beyond the formal nature of schools. It is an active process that places students at the center, constructing knowledge and applying the theoretical knowledge gained. It is believed that benefiting from using real life problems in learning-teaching contexts will both provide students with educational contexts that include real life situations and help them become individuals who can overcome difficulties by themselves by improving their critical problem-solving skills. In the study conducted, it is aimed to examine real life problems through various variables based on teacher candidates' opinions. The participants included 30 senior teacher candidates studying Mathematics teaching at the department of primary education in the faculty of education at a university located in a middle-sized city. Case study was applied as the method of study. The teacher candidates were given semi-structured forms to provide their opinions and the data collected were transcribed and analyzed qualitatively. In the light of the analyses conducted, it is concluded that real life problems, according to teacher candidates, are used most in their field teaching courses, while they are least used in their field courses and the instructors highlight the link of course contents with real life. Moreover, another finding is that teacher candidates consider Mathematics very useful in solving the problems that we face in our daily life and appreciate Mathematics as it also covers real life problems, though they find it deficient in some perspectives.

© 2012 Published by Elsevier Ltd. Selection and/or peer reviewer underresponsibility of Prof. Ay§e Qakir ilhan Keywords: Keywords: Real life problems, used situations of real life problems, teacher candidates

1. Introduction

One of the most important tools that creates a link between schools and real life is real life problems as Mathematics constitutes the supplementary part of the daily life both in most of the daily activities and many working contexts (Baki, 2009). Since it is not possible to know when and which difficulties to meet in daily life or to know what kind of needs that might emerge in advance, it is of utmost importance for each individual in a society to learn real life problems and find solutions to them as this will help them meet their needs (Sagirli, 2009). As such, with real life problems, it is aimed to enhance students' Mathematical skills through making Mathematics active in each part of life, not just in schools (Les, 2003). Baki (2009) noted that in order to solve real life problems, apply mathematical knowledge to daily life, predict, calculate and communicate in a Mathematical way, it is necessary that the arithmetical knowledge gained through skills during the school years be transferred to real life. In order to achieve this, it is important to choose examples that will help students clearly appreciate the use of Mathematics in daily life and give importance to linking Mathematical knowledge with both real life and what is learned in the other courses (Yilmaz, 2009).

1877-0428 © 2012 Published by Elsevier Ltd. Selection and/or peer review under responsibility of Prof. Ay§e Qakir ilhan doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.08.254

ELSEVIER

Real life problems are created based on real life situations and necessitate an application of a real life. Altun (2000) stated that considering aims of teaching Mathematics, problems could be categorized into two: routine (the four arithmetical operations) and not-routine (real) problems. Altun (2000) suggested that routine problems are commonly used in Mathematics course books (e.g. Ali read 30 pages of 212-page-book on the first day and 42 pages on the second. How many pages had he read when he finished reading the half of the book on the third day?) and defined the not-routine problems as the real life problems, the expressions of the problems that have been faced or might be faced in daily life and whose solutions require skills to to be gained, which are beyond the arithmetical operations, such as organizing data, categorizing, seeing the connections and doing some multi tasks, providing examples (e.g. A man wins in a game a fox, duck and a sack of corn. He has to get across a river. There is a boat; it is very small. This boat has space only for the man and one of the other things. If the man takes the corn with him, the fox can eat the duck. If he takes the fox, the duck can eat the corn. Without any loss, how can the man take these across the river?).

It is possible to see Mathematics in learning about and controlling the environment that we live in; in short, in every part of life (Hacisalihoglu, Mirasyedioglu and Akpinar, 2004: 13). The subjects, in parallel with their resemblance to real life, motivate students and as a result, learning is more effective (Büyükkaragoz and Qivi, 1994). Students' participation in the learning process depends on their knowledge and skills related to the subjects to be learnt and and how they use them (Fidan, 1998). The solutions to the real life problems pave the way for students to put their theoretical knowledge into practice, going beyond the formal nature of schools. This is a very active process that takes students at the very center, constructing both knowledge and putting the theoretical knowledge gained into practice.

It is believed that benefiting from using real life problems in learning-teaching contexts will both provide students with educational contexts that include real life situations and help them become individuals who can overcome difficulties by themselves by improving their critical problem-solving skills. In this respect, it is also very crucial to investigate teacher candidates' attitudes towards real life-problems, who will be teachers in the future. Therefore, the main focus of the study is how teacher candidates are trained on knowing the real-life problems, acknowledging, applying and solving them. However, another issue that attracts attention is how much the teacher candidates are exposed to real life problems in their courses and what their attitudes are towards the use of real-life problems. The study also investigates the teacher candidates' attitudes towards their instructors' use of real-life problems, who are trying to help them be teachers who are knowledgeable of their field of study and pedagogical skills. Moreover, it is believed that the current study will fill the gap in the literature as there are very limited studies conducted on evaluating real-life problems from teacher candidates' perspectives.

1.1. Aim of the study

It is aimed to investigate real life problems through various variables such as teacher candidates' opinions and the instructors' use of real-life problems, the applicability of real-life problems by teacher candidates and their role in the curriculum of teaching Mathematics in primary schools.

2. Method

The current study was conducted through qualitative perspective, and case study was applied (Mcmillan & Schumer, 2006). Moreover, the data were subjected to content analysis. In such analysis, the aim is to present the findings as organized and interpreted to the readers (Yildirim & §im§ek, 2004).

2.1. Participants

The participants included 30 senior teacher candidates studying Mathematics teaching at the department of primary education in the faculty of education at a university located in a middle-sized city in the eastern part of Turkey during the spring semester in the 2011-2012 academic year. The participants were selected randomly. The senior teacher candidates were selected as participants since they had completed the courses in their department and they could sufficiently evaluate their four-year education in their department.

2.2. Data Collection

The participants were asked to respond to an open-ended questionnaire prepared in advance in a given time. The open-ended questions were written according to the aim of the study and based on the interviews conducted with the teacher candidates, the review of literature and the consultations with the experts on the field. Moreover, the open-ended questions were piloted with three teacher candidates and then it was determined in what order and what form the questions would appear. The questions in the questionnaire are provided below:

1. Are real-life problems used by your instructors in your courses? If yes, in which course(s) are these mostly used? In which courses are they least used? How often are they used?

2. Are the significant points in the contents of the courses that appear in real life or might appear explained by the instructors?

3. What do you think about the place of real-life problems in the curriculum of Mathematics Teaching in the grades of 6 through 8 in the primary school and linking Mathematics with daily life?

4. Do you think that Mathematics will be useful in solving the problems which we might face? Please provide examples.

5. Do you think that you will use real-life problems in your classes and link Mathematics with daily life when you become a teacher?

2.3. Data Analysis

In the current study, the teacher candidates' attitudes were investigated through five open-ended questions. The missing, illegible and unclear responses were excluded from the analysis. The data were subjected to content analysis and the similar data were analyzed under the specific codes and themes. The coding analysis was conducted by three experts at different times and compared in order to ensure inter-rater reliability. The coding analysis was observed to be reliable. The items under each code were evaluated one by one by the experts and the codes were finalized. The data, then, were organized through the finalized analysis and discussed.

3. Findings And Discussion

The findings of the study were analyzed for each question and department separately.

3.1. Question 1: Are real-life problems used by your instructors in your courses? If yes, in which course(s) are these mostly used? In which courses are they least used? How often are they used?

When the responses provided to this question were analyzed, three codes emerged: Yes, they are used; No, they are not used; and Sometimes used and sometimes not, respectively. Six teacher candidates responded to this question, "Yes, they are used"; three teacher candidates stated "No, they are not used" and 21 said "Sometimes used and sometimes not". The majority of the participants stated that the real-life questions were sometimes used and sometimes not. The teacher candidates' responses forming this code indicated that the real-life problems were frequently used in field teaching courses while they were rarely or never used in their field courses. When the responses provided to the question "In which course(s) are these mostly used?" by the teacher candidates stating that "They are sometimes used and sometimes not", it is found out that the courses provided mostly are Special Teaching Methods, Instructional Technologies and Materials Design, Special Education, Classroom Management, Guidance, Scientific Research Methods, Measurement and Evaluation, Statistics and Probability, respectively. The courses in which the real-life problems are used least, on the other hand, are listed according to the order in which they were provided: Differential Equations, Linear Algebra, and Introduction to Algebra, Analyses I-II-III, Elementary Number Theory and Analytical Geometry. When the responses given to the question "How often are real-life questions used?" were analyzed, it appeared that real-life problems were tried to be provided almost in each subject and class together with examples during field teaching courses; however, in field courses, they were used in only some subjects a few times during the semester.

3.2. Question 2: Are the significant points in the contents of the courses that appear in real life or might appear explained by the instructors?

The analysis of the responses to this question indicated there were two prevailing opinions. One of these opinions is coded as "Explained" and the other one is "Seldom explained or not explained". The responses provided by 22 teacher candidates forming the "Explained" code showed that these teacher candidates agree on the fact that the instructors who used real-life problems in their classes were continuously explaining the relationship between the content and the real life or pointed out this relationship with real-life problems. Regarding this, one of the participants in this group claimed, "Of course these are being explained. However, as there are many variables in real life ■which we cannot put under control, it is not always possible to show the relationship exactly", while another participant put forward that "The instructors lecturing on pedagogical courses more frequently touch upon the relationship between the course contents and the real life."

The responses provided by 8 teacher candidates forming the second code showed that the instructors rarely or never touched upon the relationship between the course contents and real-life due to some reasons such as the abstract structure of the courses and subjects which are not directly related to real life. One of the participants in this group explained that the abstract subjects covered in the courses did not allow the instructors to link the course with real life, explaning "As most of our courses deal with abstract issues, real-life problems were not used that much. Therefore, there was nothing to explain." Another teacher candidate, saying that "As we cannot see what we learned in field courses in real life, the instructors do not talk about this relationship", links the lack of explanation on the relationship to the fact that the relationship cannot be used in real life.

Ilgar et al. (2009), in their study conducted with high school freshman students, found that 91,4% of the participants responded as "not stated" to the question "Is the use of subjects covered in Mathematics in daily life stressed out by the teacher?" In another study conducted by Baki et al. (2009), it is also found out that the students stated that the relationship between Mathematics and real file was not discussed sufficiently. These findings are in contrast with the responses provided by the 72% of teacher candidates who stated that the significant points in the contents of the courses that appear in real life or might appear are explained by the instructors.

3.3. Question 3: What do you think about the place of real-life problems in the curriculum of Mathematics Teaching in the grades of 6 through 8 in the primary school and linking Mathematics with daily life?

When the responses to this question were analyzed, it was again found out that there were two prevailing views. The first is the one coded as "Positive view" and the other one is the "Positive view" with some deficiencies. The following statements, "As the association of one course with real life makes learning permanent, I find the Mathematics curriculum very useful in the grades of 6 through 8 in the primary school. However, I am of the opinion that the curriculum should be improved in some respects, especially the use of materials design in real life in more depth.", "Examples from real life are provided in small boxes like information boxes in the books." Students are given activities as homework. Problems are generally real life examples. Associating each subject with daily life also leads to the timing problem in covering the curriculum.", "When I go over the course books, I observe that there are some radical changes in the course book and in this way, I think, these changes will be of great help to students. It is so nice to have activities based on real life in books.", "As constructive approach has been adopted throughout the curriculum; the subjects in Mathematics are presented with a connection with daily life so that students apprehend the subjects. In this way, more meaningful learning materializes.", "I, in this respect, find the curriculum helpful because students will not get bored when they learn something related to their life and as they know they will face these in their daily life, they will be more motivated", are examples for the ones that form the "Positive View" code. What is common in these responses provided by 25 teacher candidates that form "Positive View" code is that the curriculum provides real life problems, Mathematics will be associated with daily life and thus leading to more permanent learning and it will help make abstract thinking, concepts and opinions more concrete and increase students interest and motivation. Moreover, one of the views in this code clearly expressed that the the curriculum, with its current aspect, helps Mathematics become more functional and also prove useful.

The responses provided by 5 teacher candidates that form the second code indicated that these candidates found the curriculum useful as it included real life problems and made a connection with daily life or thought finding it useful. They also stated there were some deficiencies and all agreed that the given examples were a repetition of the previous ones. The three teacher candidates' views categorized into this code are as the following:

"I think that although the real life problems provided in the books that we evaluated were not sufficient, I think that they are partly useful.", "Compared to the previous curriculum, the new curriculum covers real life problems more; however, these are the commonly known ones. The unknown problems of life can also be explained in relation with Mathematics.", "There are real life problems in the curriculum. There is also the connection, but it is not creative. They are previously given and used examples. It would have been better if the examples that would attract students much more had been given."

Ubuz (2002), in the study conducted on Mathematics Teachers and Teacher Candidates views on university education and the profession of teaching, found that in addition to the lack of courses towards high school education, the participants felt the need for courses such as the History of Mathematics and the use of Mathematics in daily life. However, as this study was conducted before the curriculum renewal in Mathematics, the findings of the study are based on the participants' views on the old curriculum. The teacher candidates appreciate the new curriculum as it includes real-life problems and links it with daily life.

3.4. Question 4: Do you think that Mathematics will be useful in solving the problems which we might face? Please provide examples.

When the responses provided to this question, the responses, provided by 28 teacher candidates, starting with "Yes, I do" were categorized as the "Yes" code, the responses provided by 2 teacher candidates starting with "Yes, but I think it is limited" were coded as "Yes, but limited".

The responses that form "Yes" code provide the following examples taking Mathematics into consideration: Being in each part of life, composing the base of life, arithmetical operations while shopping, calculating discount, timing, using technology, calculating, predicting, monthly budgeting and thinking reasonably. The response provided by one of the teacher candidates who provided the example of logical thinking was "Yes, I absolutely do. Mathematics is not composed of only formulas and symbols. There is also logic in Mathematics. While we are making our even simple decisions, we do the one that seems logical to us and in this way we try to solve our problems. In fact, Mathematics is in each part of our life..." On the other hand, the response that another teacher candidate provided the example of arithmetical operations was "Yes, I do. The simplest example: The child that can do arithmetical operations can also carry out his/her daily work. The child who learned the three-dimensional objects can easily use the ones that s/he sees around her/his environment." On the other hand, the responses provided by the teacher candidates that form the "Yes, but limited" code revealed that while the teacher candidates thought Mathematics was useful in real life problems for some subjects, it was not always possible to use it for each and every subject.

In their study Ilgar et al. (2009) analyzed the use of the subjects covered by the first grade Mathematics and showed that natural numbers was the most known subject (27%) in use. The second came the subject of cluster (25%). In the study conducted by Civelek et al. (2003) which analyzed the high school students and teachers' views on the problems that emerged in teaching Mathematics, it was put forward that the students considered Mathematics only a subject and they did not know how to put Mathematics into action in daily life. However, compared to high school students, teacher candidates are more conscious about this issue. The findings of the study conducted by Baki et al. (2000) with college students revealed that the process of connecting Mathematics with daily life is considered significant by the students. Moreover, the examples provided by the students on the use of Mathematics in real life are related to numbers such as calculation and shopping. The current study is in alignment with this finding.

3.5. Question 5: Do you think that you will use real-life problems in your classes and link Mathematics with daily life when you become a teacher?

When the responses provided to this question were analyzed, all of the 30 teacher candidates in the study group stated that they would use daily life problems and link Mathematics with daily life. Regarding this, one teacher candidate stated that, "I will definitely use real life problems in my classes it is necessary to connect Mathematics with real life to apply the Mathematical knowledge into daily life. In this respect, the child will see that Mathematics is not a difficult subject and will be successful. I must teach my students that Mathematics is the life itself.", while another commented, "I am thinking of using it. In any case, the educational system requires this. As developmental approach is adopted, using materials and the connection of materials with daily life is so important". The teacher candidates stated that they would use real life problems as they thought this would motivate their students, increase their motivation, help the lesson be concrete, deal with the prejudices towards Mathematics, foster positive attitudes and increase the permanence of learning.

The two teacher candidates, however, claimed they would use real life problems and added there were some deficiencies caused by internal and external factors. One of the teacher candidates put forward, "I think I will use as much as I can; however, I think we have some lack of knowledge on this and the resources are not sufficient. Nevertheless, as we get experienced, I think I will improve myself on this".

Ilgar et al. (2009) conducted a study with high school freshman students and found that 84,3% of the participants agreed to the question "Should the use of subjects covered in Mathematics in daily life be explained by the teacher in the classroom?". This finding is significantly in alignment with the responses provided by the teacher candidates.

4. CONCLUSION

In the light of the analyses conducted, it is concluded that real life problems, according to teacher candidates, are used most in their field teaching courses, while they are least used in their field courses and the instructors highlighted the link of course contents with real life. Moreover, the findings also indicate that teacher candidates considered Mathematics very useful in solving the problems that we face in our daily life and appreciate Mathematics as it also covers real life problems. Furthermore, they are willing to use real-life problems frequently in their future career and link Mathematics with daily life, though they find it deficient in some perspectives.

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