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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Snapshots of the St. Lucian market place: computational strategies of another culture Sul, G. Gay


While the teaching of paper and pencil algorithms dominates the elementary mathematics curriculum, outside of school both children and adults often abandon these methods in favor of their own informal strategies. A literature review showed the use of a large variety of procedures occurs across cultures, educational levels, and age groups. Schooling and experience with commercial transactions were factors found to affect the types of strategies utilized and the correctness of responses. This research, conducted in St. Lucia, West Indies, examined the mental computational strategies used by adult vendors (in the market, on the street, on the beach) and nonvendors. The daily activities of a vendor involve a substantial amount of mental calculation when engaging in financial transactions, in which accuracy is important; many, however, have only primary schooling or less. Vendors were also of interest because of their reputation on the island for being able to do quick and accurate calculations. Non-vendors consisted of two subgroups: teachers and people from other occupations (such as taxi drivers and bank tellers) with varying levels of education. Problems were presented orally in the context of buying goods in the marketplace, and subjects described the strategies they utilized to arrive at a solution. The questions focused on the following mathematical areas: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and estimation. Solution processes were categorized and the success in producing a correct answer was recorded. Data on the computational procedures taught in schools were collected. A wide range of strategies was used by both vendors and non-vendors. The amount of formal education had the most impact on the procedures utilized; experience with daily commercial transactions had little effect. Subjects with more schooling also produced more correct answers. Teachers frequently solved the problems using their own informal methods, but when asked what approach they would show their students for the same question, educators generally ignored what they had just done themselves and said they would rely on a written algorithm to demonstrate to children. Other than basic mathematics facts, there was little agreement or understanding of what mental computation encompasses. Rounding was the only estimation strategy being addressed. The computational routines being taught in schools do not reflect what was being used by people in everyday life. The findings contradict the widely held notion that vendors are accurate in their calculations. The results do not support some of the research where involvement with commercial transactions was found to be a predictor of success as compared to those without such experience; schooling was found to have greater effect on producing correct answers. Recommendations are made about the teaching of mental computation for both primary schools and adult numeracy programs.

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