Mathematics Education Research Journal

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 173–197 | Cite as

Enhancing student engagement through the affordances of mobile technology: a 21st century learning perspective on Realistic Mathematics Education

Original Article


Several recent curriculum reforms aim to address the shortfalls traditionally associated with mathematics education through increased emphasis on higher-order-thinking and collaborative skills. Some stakeholders, such as the US National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the UK Joint Mathematical Council, advocate harnessing the affordances of digital technology in conjunction with social constructivist pedagogies, contextual scenarios, and/or approaches aligned with Realistic Mathematics Education (RME). However, it can be difficult to create technology-mediated, collaborative and contextual activities within a conventional classroom setting. This paper explores how a combination of a transformative, mobile technology-mediated approach, RME, and a particular model of 21st century learning facilitates the development of mathematics learning activities with the potential to increase student engagement and confidence. An explanatory case study with multiple embedded units and a pre-experimental design was conducted with a total of 54 students in 3 schools over 25 hours of class time. Results from student interviews, along with pre-test/post-test analysis of questionnaires, suggest that the approach has the potential to increase student engagement with, and confidence in, mathematics. This paper expands on these results, proposing connections between aspects of the activity design and their impact on student attitudes and behaviours.


Mobile technology RME Contextualised learning 21st century learning Student engagement Post-primary education 


Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical clearance was obtained, including permission to use the student images.


  1. Ainley, J., Button, T., Clark-Wilson, A., Hewson, S., Johnston-Wilder, S., Martin, D., . . . Sutherland, R. (2011). Digital technologies and mathematics education. Retrieved from London, UK.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, J., White, P., & Wong, M. (2012). Mathematics curriculum in the schooling years. In B. Perry, T. Lowrie, T. Logan, A. MacDonald, & J. Greenlees (Eds.), Research in mathematics education in Australasia 2008–2011 (pp. 219–244). The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.Google Scholar
  3. Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers. (1997). Numeracy = everyone’s business. Retrieved from South Australia:
  4. Bray, A., & Tangney, B. (2013). Mathematics, pedagogy and technology—seeing the wood from the trees. In 5th International Conference on Computer Supported Education (CSEDU 2013) (pp. 57–63).Google Scholar
  5. Bray, A., Oldham, E., & Tangney, B. (2013). The human catapult and other stories—adventures with technology in mathematics education. In 11th International Conference on Technology in Mathematics Teaching (ICTMT11) (pp. 77–83).Google Scholar
  6. Cai, J., & Howson, G. (2013). Toward an international mathematics curriculum. In M. A. K. Clements, A. J. Bishop, C. Keitel, J. Kilpatrick, & F. K. S. Leung (Eds.), Third international handbook of mathematics education (pp. 949–974). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  7. Clements, M. A., Keitel, C., Bishop, A. J., Kilpatrick, J., & Leung, F. K. S. (2013). From the few to the many: historical perspectives on who should learn mathematics. In M. A. Clements, A. J. Bishop, C. Keitel, J. Kilpatrick, & F. K. S. Leung (Eds.), Third international handbook of mathematics education (pp. 7–40). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Confrey, J., Hoyles, C., Jones, D., Kahn, K., Maloney, A. P., Nguyen, K. H., . . . Pratt, D. (2010). Designing software for mathematical engagement through modeling. In C. Hoyles & J. B. Lagrange (Eds.), Mathematics education and technology—rethinking the terrain: the 17th ICMI Study (Vol. 13, pp. 19-45): Springer.Google Scholar
  9. Conway, P. F., & Sloane, F. C. (2005). International trends in post-primary mathematics education (NCCAth ed.). Dublin, Ireland: National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.Google Scholar
  10. Creswell, J. (2003). Research design: qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.Google Scholar
  11. Crompton, H. (2013). A historical overview of mobile learning: toward learner-centered education. In Z. L. Berge & L. Y. Muilenburg (Eds.), Handbook of mobile learning (pp. 3–14). Florence, KY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  12. Department of Education and Science. (2004). A brief description of the Irish education system. Ireland: Department of Education and Science.Google Scholar
  13. Department of Education and Skills. (2012). A framework for junior cycle. Retrieved from Dublin:
  14. Drijvers, P., Mariotti, M. A., Olive, J., & Sacristán, A. I. (2010). Introduction to section 2. In C. Hoyles & J. B. Lagrange (Eds.), Mathematics education and technology—rethinking the terrain: the 17th ICMI Study (Vol. 13, pp. 81 - 88): Springer.Google Scholar
  15. Elo, S., & Kyngäs, H. (2008). The qualitative content analysis process. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 62(1), 107–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Freudenthal, H. (1991). Revisiting mathematics education: China lectures (Vol. 9). Dordrecht/Boston/London: Springer.Google Scholar
  17. Geiger, V., Faragher, R., & Goos, M. (2010). CAS-enabled technologies as ‘agents provocateurs’ in teaching and learning mathematical modelling in secondary school classrooms. Mathematics Education Research Journal, 22(2), 48–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Glaser, B. G. (1965). The constant comparative method of qualitative analysis. Social Problems, 12(4), 436–445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine.Google Scholar
  20. Gravemeijer, K. (1994). Developing realistic mathematics education. Utrecht: CDbeta Press.Google Scholar
  21. Hoyles, C., & Lagrange, J. B. (2010). Mathematics education and technology: rethinking the terrain: the 17th ICMI study (C. Hoyles & J. B. Lagrange Eds. Vol. 13): Springerverlag Us.Google Scholar
  22. Hsieh, H.-F., & Shannon, S. E. (2005). Three approaches to qualitative content analysis. Qualitative Health Research, 15(9), 1277–1288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Johnston, K., Conneely, C., Murchan, D., & Tangney, B. (2014). Enacting key skills-based curricula in secondary education: lessons from a technology-mediated, group-based learning initiative. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 1 - 20Google Scholar
  24. Krippendorff, K. H. (2004). Content analysis: an introduction to its methodology (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.Google Scholar
  25. Laborde, C. (2002). Integration of technology in the design of geometry tasks with Cabri-geometry. International Journal of Computers for Mathematical Learning, 6(3), 283–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Landis, J. R., & Koch, G. G. (1977). An application of hierarchical kappa-type statistics in the assessment of majority agreement among multiple observers. Biometrics, 33, 363–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lawlor, J., Conneely, C., & Tangney, B. (2010). Towards a pragmatic model for group-based, technology-mediated, project-oriented learning—an overview of the B2C model. In M. D. Lytras, P. Ordonez De Pablos, D. Avison, J. Sipior, Q. Jin, W. Leal, L. Uden, M. C. Thomas, S., & D. G. Horner (Eds.), Proceedings of the 2010 TechEduca Conference (pp. 602-609). Athens.Google Scholar
  28. Lawlor, J., Marshall, K., & Tangney, B. (2015). Bridge21—exploring the potential to foster intrinsic student motivation through a team-based, technology mediated learning mode. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, in press, 1-20.Google Scholar
  29. Merriam, S. B. (1998). Qualitative research and case study applications in education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.Google Scholar
  30. Namey, E., Guest, G., Thairu, L., & Johnson, L. (2007). Data reduction techniques for large qualitative data sets. In G. Guest & K. M. MacQueen (Eds.), Handbook for team-based qualitative research (pp. 137–162). Plymouth, UK: AltaMira Press.Google Scholar
  31. Olive, J., Makar, K., Hoyos, V., Kor, L. K., Kosheleva, O., & Sträßer, R. (2010). Mathematical knowledge and practices resulting from access to digital technologies. Mathematics education and technology—rethinking the terrain: the 17th ICMI Study (Vol. 13, pp. 133-177): Springer.Google Scholar
  32. Ozdamli, F., Karabey, D., & Nizamoglu, B. (2013). The effect of technology supported collaborative learning settings on behaviour of students towards mathematics learning. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 83, 1063–1067.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Patten, B., Arnedillo Sánchez, I., & Tangney, B. (2006). Designing collaborative, constructionist and contextual applications for handheld devices. Computers & Education, 46(3), 294–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Pierce, R., Stacey, K., & Barkatsas, A. (2007). A scale for monitoring students’ attitudes to learning mathematics with technology. Computers & Education, 48(2), 285–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Puentedura, R. (2006). Transformation, technology, and education. Retrieved from
  36. Strauss, A. L., & Corbin, J. M. (2008). Basics of qualitative research: techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory 3e (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.Google Scholar
  37. Tangney, B., Bray, A., & Oldham, E. (2015). Realistic mathematics education, mobile technology & the Bridge21 model for 21st century learning—a perfect storm. In H. Crompton & J. Traxler (Eds.), Mobile learning and mathematics: foundations, design, and case studies (pp. 96–106). Oxon, UK: Routledge.Google Scholar
  38. van den Heuvel-Panhuizen, M. (2002). Realistic mathematics education: work in progress. Common sense in mathematics education: The Netherlands and Taiwan Conference on Mathematics Education, 1 - 39.Google Scholar
  39. Voogt, J., & Roblin, N. P. (2012). A comparative analysis of international frameworks for 21st century competences: implications for national curriculum policies. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 44(3), 299–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Wijers, M., Jonker, V., & Kerstens, K. (2008). MobileMath: the phone, the game and the math. Proceedings of the European Conference on Game Based Learning, 507-516.Google Scholar
  41. Yin, R. K. (2014). Case study research: design and methods (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia, Inc. 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Trinity CollegeDublinIreland

Personalised recommendations