Metaphors and models in translation between college and workplace mathematics

Julian Williams, Geoff Wake

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We report a study of repairs in communication between workers and visiting outsiders (students, researchers or teachers). We show how cultural models such as metaphors and mathematical models facilitated explanations and repair work in inquiry and pedagogical dialogues. We extend previous theorisations of metaphor by Black; Lakoff and Johnson; Lakoff & Nunes; and Schon, to formulate a perspective on mathematical models and modelling and show how dialogues can manifest (i) application of 'dead' models to new contexts, and (ii) generative modelling. In particular, we draw in some depth on one case study of the use of a double number line model of the 'gas day' and its mediation of communication within two dialogues, characterised by inquiry and pedagogical discourse genres respectively. In addition to spatial and gestural affordances due to its blend of grounding metaphors, the model translates between workplace objects on the one side and spreadsheet-mathematical symbols on the other. The model is found to afford generative constructions that mediate the emergence of new understandings in the dialogues. Finally we discuss the significance of this metaphorical perspective on modelling for mathematics education. © 2006 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-371
Number of pages26
JournalEducational Studies in Mathematics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2007


  • Case studies
  • Discourse
  • Mathematical genres
  • Metaphors
  • Modelling
  • Models
  • Translation


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