Cognitive Conflict in Mathematics Teaching and Learning in Public Secondary Schools in Embu West Sub-County, Kenya
Ngicho, Dickens Okach
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Cognitive conflict is widely recognized as an important factor in the process of conceptual change and can be effectively utilized to promote the learning of mathematical concepts. However, there has been little research that has examined how learners experience cognitive conflict as well as how teachers utilize this phenomenon during mathematics teaching. This study aimed at investigating the cognitive conflict in mathematics teaching and learning in public secondary schools in Embu West Sub-County, Kenya. Cognitive dissonance theory guided the study, and a mixed method research design was adopted. A population of 25 public secondary schools with 2800 Form Two students and 48 Form Two teachers of mathematics were targeted for the study. A census of all the public secondary schools in Embu West Sub-County was conducted, with the Yamane model being used to select students' participants for the study. Specifically, the sample size was 350 Form Two students and 48 teachers of mathematics. Also, a total of 68 students (32 females and 36 males) drawn from 17 secondary schools (6 single-sex and 11 mixed-sex) participated in the interviews. Purposive sampling was used to select students for the study based on their performance in their most recent mathematics examination result where only top students were selected. Data were collected using surveys and one-on-one semi-structured interviews. The research instruments for the study were questionnaires and interview schedules. To test the validity and reliability of the research instruments, the instruments were piloted with 2 teachers of mathematics and 20 Form Two mathematics students drawn from a secondary school outside the study area. Qualitative data were first transcribed, then coded and the codes were organized into categories and finally the categories organized into themes. Quantitative data were analyzed using SPSS for descriptive and inferential statistics. The findings of this study indicate that students experienced cognitive conflict in three different ways; namely, a moment to (co)construct one’s mathematical meaning, confusion as a result of teacher's behaviorist stance, and a fleeting moment of magic. The study also established that there are significant gender differences in learners' approaches to cognitive conflict where male students were found to experience more cognitive conflict as compared to female students. Therefore, the study underscores the need for teachers to utilize cognitive conflict by encouraging group work and other cooperative learning strategies among students by giving them tasks that provoke critical thinking so that as students work on those tasks, their naïve understandings of the concepts are challenged. The findings of this study are significant to teachers of mathematics as these will help them reflect on their own strategies for scaffolding mathematics learning using cognitive conflict, thereby contributing to an improvement in the quality of mathematics learning by students. The findings are also relevant to mathematics educators and instructional leaders as they provide insights on how to design quality pre- and in-service training programs for teachers of mathematics.