Dissertation defence (Education): FM Hilma Halme


14.6.2024 at 12.00 - 16.00
FM Hilma Halme defends the dissertation in Education titled “Individual differences in rational number knowledge: Novel insights from mathematics anxiety and preterm birth” at the University of Turku on 14 June 2024 at 12.00 (University of Turku, Educarium, EDU2, Assistentinkatu 5, Turku).

Opponent: Professor Markku Niemivirta (University of Eastern Finland)
Custos: Associate Professor Jake McMullen (University of Turku)

Doctoral Dissertation at UTUPub: https://www.utupub.fi/handle/10024/177529


Summary of the Doctoral Dissertation:

Despite research on mathematical development, there is limited understanding of its development in different types of students. This research aims to provide novel insights on how individual factors, mathematics anxiety and preterm birth, relate to the learning of rational number knowledge and flexible mathematical skills in fifth and sixth graders.

The first part of the research showed that the relation between mathematics anxiety and performance differed across mathematical skills and two measures of mathematics anxiety: general mathematics anxiety and state anxiety (measured after each task). An especially intriguing finding was that students, who used a whole number approach to solve a fraction arithmetic task (i.e. adding denominators and numerators 1/3 + 1/3 = 2/6), reported low state anxiety after the task. This suggests that the students were unaware this approach was incorrect. After fraction instruction, the students reported more fraction related anxiety, indicating that overcoming their incorrect reasoning induced anxiety. Thus, teachers should take into account fraction related misunderstandings during fraction teaching to support the transition from whole numbers to fractions without inducing anxiety.

The second part of the research examined students’ flexible mathematical skills, meaning their ability to apply their mathematical knowledge in novel contexts. Mathematics anxiety, especially state anxiety, was shown to reduce students’ performance on a novel rational number task, regardless of their general mathematical skill level. Likewise, children born very preterm had peer-equivalent performance on many routine mathematical skills, including rational number knowledge, but they had difficulties applying this knowledge in a novel context. This shows that students with various individual differences can struggle to apply their mathematical knowledge outside of routine textbook related tasks. Given the relevance of mathematical skills in everyday life for all individuals, it is important to promote flexible mathematical thinking in addition to teaching routine skills. Overall, this research furthers our understanding of individual challenges within developing mathematical proficiency, including the ability to apply mathematical knowledge in novel contexts.
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