Making abstract mathematics concrete in and out of school

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We adopt a neo-Vygotskian view that a fully concrete scientific concept can only emerge from engaging in practice with systems of theoretical concepts, such as when mathematics is used to make sense of outside school or vocational practices. From this perspective, the literature on mathematics outside school tends to dichotomise in- and out-of-school practice and glamorises the latter as more authentic and situated than academic mathematics. We then examine case study ethnographies of mathematics in which this picture seemed to break down in moments of mathematical problem solving and modelling in practice: (1) when amateur or professional players decided to investigate the mathematics of darts scoring to develop their "outing" strategies and (2) when a prevocational mathematics course task challenged would-be mathematics teachers' concept of fractions. These examples are used to develop the Vygotskian framework in relation to vocational and workplace mathematics. Finally, we propose that a unified view of mathematics, outside and inside school, on the basis of Vygotsky's approach to everyday and scientific thought, can usefully orientate further research in vocational mathematics education. © 2014 The Author(s).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)193-209
Number of pages16
JournalEducational Studies in Mathematics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014


  • Abstract and concrete mathematics
  • In and out of school
  • Vocational mathematics
  • Vygotsky


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