TLRP: Imagined futures: mediation of the mathematical biography
This paper formed part of the symposium: Opening doors to mathematically-demanding programmes in Higher Education 1. It presents data drawn from biographical interviews with students (ages 17-18) conducted as part of a research project on widening participation in mathematics education. The students were asked about their educational background, their experiences of learning maths and their disposition towards future study. We view the stories students tell us in these interviews as narratives of identity – narratives in which students draw on troubles, obstacles and resources as they map the trajectory of their imagined lifestory (Bruner 1996). Thus, we are interested in the ways in which students identify with mathematics and how this connects with the trajectories they construct within the interviews. The paper asks: how do students connect their identity as a learner of mathematics with their other salient identities within the interview narrative? The paper focuses on three students (Gemma, Mary and Lee) drawn from our wider sample of 50. These have been selected because of their contrasting positions towards learning maths. However, all three cases exemplify the kind of positionings which were evident in students’ narratives across the dataset. All interviews were analysed as biographical narratives focusing on how students’ self identity statements fitted with the overall story they were attempting to construct. We are particularly interested in self-identity statements regarding students’ career plans (e.g. ‘I want to be an engineer’), their decision to enter HE and their relationship with mathematics. The stories told by these three students illustrate various modes of positioning with or against mathematics and highlight how one might narrate oneself as some kind of ‘maths person’ or ‘anti-maths person’. For instance, Lee, finds himself marginalised from mathematics due to his insititutional position as a ‘struggling’ student and consequently draws on the notion that ‘maths is irrelevant’ to his career trajectory in order to reconcile a sense of ‘not belonging’. The notion of a ‘leading identity’ in the student’s narrative appears to be pertinent for some – this is the imagined ‘identity’ of the future which appears signficant in ‘leading’ the individual’s development (derived from the concept of leading activity from Stetsenko & Arievitch 2004, Leontev 1981). For example, Gemma, a ‘low grade’ student, who in another college would have been prevented from taking AS maths, constructs her narrative with the view that ‘mathematics is hard and challenging’ which provides positive energy for her imagined future identity as a marine biologist.