Making connections: network theory, embodied mathematics, and mathematical understanding

  • Author / Creator
    Mowat, Elizabeth M.
  • In this dissertation, I propose that network theory offers a useful frame for informing mathematics education. Mathematical understanding, like the discipline of formal mathematics within which it is subsumed, possesses attributes characteristic of complex systems. As the techniques of network theorists are often used to explore such forms, a network model provides a novel and productive way to interpret individual comprehension of mathematics. A network structure for mathematical understanding can be found in cognitive mechanisms presented in the theory of embodied mathematics described by Lakoff and Núñez. Specifically, conceptual domains are taken as the nodes of a network and conceptual metaphors as the connections among them. Examination of this ‘metaphoric network of mathematics’ reveals the scale-free topology common to complex systems. Patterns of connectivity in a network determine its dynamic behavior. Scale-free systems like mathematical understanding are inherently vulnerable, for cascading failures, where misunderstanding one concept can lead to the failure of many other ideas, may occur. Adding more connections to the metaphoric network decreases the likelihood of such a collapse in comprehension. I suggest that an individual’s mathematical understanding may be made more robust by ensuring each concept is developed using metaphoric links that supply patterns of thought from a variety of domains. Ways of making this a focus of classroom instruction are put forth, as are implications for curriculum and professional development. A need for more knowledge of metaphoric connections in mathematics is highlighted. To exemplify how such research might be carried out, and with the intent of substantiating ideas presented in this dissertation, I explore a small part of the proposed metaphoric network around the concept of EXPONENTIATION. Using collaborative discussion, individual interviews and literature, a search for representations that provide varied ways of making sense of EXPONENTIATION is carried out. Examination of the physical and mathematical roots of these conceptualizations leads to the identification of domains that can be linked to EXPONENTIATION.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
    • Department of Secondary Education
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
    • Simmt, Elaine (Secondary Education)
    • Davis, Brent (Secondary Education)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Mason, John (Education, University of Oxford)
    • McGarvey, Lynn (Elementary Education)
    • Pimm, David (Secondary Education)