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Educ Stud Math (2013) 84:329347 DOI 10.


Photovoice: understanding high school females conceptions of mathematics and learning mathematics
Shelly Sheats Harkness & James Stallworth

Published online: 7 May 2013 # Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Abstract Photovoice is a participatory action research tool that is grounded in the literature for critical consciousness (Wang & Burris, 1997). Four creative high school girls who reported struggles with mathematics were given cameras and asked to take photographs to answer the following questions: (1) What is mathematics? (2) What is your ideal learning environment? (3) What things impede your learning of mathematics? Within-case and crosscase analyses of the photographs and interview responses were conducted. Each individual case was analyzed using the work of Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule (Womens Ways of Knowing, 1986) who investigated womens epistemological perspectives. The girls were either silenced (disconnected from the mathematical knowledge of the teacher), received (lacked confidence to do mathematics independently), or fragily subjective (viewed mathematical knowledge as personal rather than imparted by the teacher) knowers of mathematics. The use of photovoice has the power to facilitate the nurturing of silence as it moves toward the roar which is on the other side of silence (Belenky et al., 1986, p. 4). Keywords Photovoice . Mathematics . Epistemology . Gender

1 Introduction The headline of a front-page article announced, Revenge of the Nerds: Computer Engineers Hijack Barbie Vote (Zimmerman, The Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2010). Barbie is a popular doll manufactured by Mattel, Inc. The company launched a voting campaign for Barbies next career and asked young girls who visited to vote; the choices were architect, anchorwoman, computer engineer, environmentalist, and surgeon. More than 600,000 votes were cast. Computer engineers who learned about the voting process launched a campaign through a blog to: Please help us in getting Barbie to get her Geek on! Computer engineer Barbie won the popular vote, but girls, worldwide, overwhelmingly voted for the anchorwoman. The results prompted Mattel, Inc., to manufacture both
S. S. Harkness (*) University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH, USA e-mail: J. Stallworth Hughes STEM High School, Cincinnati Public Schools, Cincinnati, OH, USA


S.S. Harkness, J. Stallworth

computer engineer and anchorwoman Barbie dolls. Perhaps some of the attraction by the girls was associated with the glamour they associated with the anchorwoman career, but it was also the only career choice that requires little or no mathematical or scientific training. Today, women are successful lawyers, doctors, and business people. Yet, according to a report published by the American Association of University Women, there are few women mathematicians, scientists, and engineers in the USA (Hill, Corbett, & St. Rose, 2010). Workforce estimations for 2018 by the U.S. Department of Labor indicate that nine out of the ten fastest-growing professions that require at least a bachelor s degree will necessitate significant scientific or mathematical training (as reported by Hill et al., p. 19). Despite this prediction, The National Center for Women & Information Technology reported that, in 1985, 37 % of degrees in computer sciences, one of the growing professions, were awarded to women, but in 2008 this number declined to 18 % (Zimmerman, 2010). Data from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS, 2003) indicated that females of all racial and ethnic groups were less likely than White males to want to pursue a career in mathematics (Riegle-Crumb, Moore, & Ramos-Wada, 2010). Females hold perceptions of mathematics as a content area more exclusive to males (Forgasz, Leder, & Kloosterman, 2004; Kloosterman, Tassell, Ponniah, & Essex, 2001), and environmental and social barriers such as stereotypes, gender bias, and less-than-friendly college climates in science and engineering departments remain (Hill et al., 2010; Herzig, 2004a). In interviews with six women who were mathematics doctoral students at one university in the USA, Herzig (2004a) noted that all of the students shared stories in which they felt they did not fit in within the department. She characterized the students experiences with professors as one of benign neglect (p. 389), but also noted that these experiences may not be unique to women. However, all six of the women in Herzigs study felt that they did not fit into the male-dominated culture of mathematics (2004a, p. 392). Even before women enter universities, choices that they make in their school coursework selection, as early as middle school years, could pose limits to their options for career pursuits in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics fields. Given the concern about the shortage of students in these fields (Burton, 2001; National Science Foundation, 2000) and the growing need for scientific and mathematical literacy, it seems that fostering females to excel and enjoy mathematics should be a priority for those of us who teach in middle schools and high schools. Of course, students should be free to choose their field of study at the university, but that presumes the notion that all disciplines share the same epistemologies and cultures because these affect students choices and successes (Herzig, 2004b). Fox, Tobin, and Brody (1979) noted that gender differences in school-related behavior and attitudes were not necessarily inherent, but were the result of socialization practices which taught societys preferred gender roles. Other studies indicated that female students with negative attitudes toward mathematics were more likely to be silenced in classrooms (Martel & Peterat, 1988), typically deferred to their teachers or male students for answers (Biklen & Pollard, 2001), and viewed schools as unlikely places for them to gain their own voices (Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986). These variables and their enduring and deep-rooted impact on females views of mathematics were reestablished in study conducted by Leder (1992). At the time of the study described in this paper, we were tutoring four high school females in grades 10 and 11 because they were struggling to earn passing grades in their mathematics courses. In an attempt to inform our tutoring practice and to develop relationships with the females, we employed the photovoice methodology (Wang & Burris, 1997). Photovoice is a participatory action research tool which has been applied in a variety of contexts. It is grounded in the literature for critical consciousness and feminist frameworks and is a



process by which people can identify, represent, and enhance their community through a specific photographic technique (Wang & Burris, 1997, p. 369). Photovoice supports participants, who might be silenced in some research experiences, to tell their stories through the images they capture with cameras. This research methodology allows participants to tell their story, like pictures in a gallery (Povey, Angier, & Clarke, 2006). It also enhances identity work (Mendick, 2002) as participants connect the images to descriptions of their experiences in interviews or focus groups. We gave each girl a camera and asked her to take photographs to address the following questions: 1. What is mathematics? 2. What is your ideal learning environment? 3. What things impede your learning of mathematics? Photovoice incorporated three themes of feminist methodology: an appreciation for the girls subjective experiences in the research process; the honoring of their intelligence and knowledge as recommended by theoretical literature; and the recognition of their school experiences in mathematics (Wang & Burris, 1994). In individual interviews, the girls explained the significance of each photo. By using photovoice, we attempted to listen to their voices in order to honor their beliefs, enthusiasms, and doubts. After the interviews, we analyzed the data using the work of Belenky et al. 1986) who investigated womens epistemological perspectives. Within this paper, we discuss how photovoice helped us make connections with the girls and also informed our tutoring practice.

2 Photovoice Photovoice has been used to address public health concerns around the world: with women in the Yunnan province in China (Wang & Burris, 1994), homeless individuals at a shelter in Michigan (Wang & Redwood-Jones, 2001), and others (Booth & Booth, 2003; Lopez, Eng, Randall-David, & Robinson, 2005; Rhodes, Hergenrather, Wilkin, & Jolly, 2008). In education contexts, researchers have used photovoice with at-risk middle grade students (Kroeger, Burton, Comarata, Combs, Hamm, Hopkins, & Kouche, 2004) and with urban high school students (Whitfield & Meyer, 2005). Wang & Burris (1994) designed photovoice as a means to empower women in the Yunnan province of China who were given cameras to take pictures to address controversial issues in their world. They did not need to have the ability to read and write (p. 179) in order to participate. They captured images of problems in their communities. For example, one woman took a picture of another woman weeding a field while her baby lay nearby on a blanket. They discussed their photographs in focus groups and recognized emerging themes. The picture of the baby provided a starting point for a rich conversation between the women about the issue of childcare. Additionally, the women presented their images to local policymakers with the intent to create awareness and to effect changes. The emphasis was on capturing the world through the eyes of the women, not the lens of the researchers. While Wang and Burris provided a theoretical framework for photovoice, Booth and Booth (2003) described several challenges. One challenge they encountered while investigating the daily life struggles facing mothers with disabilities was the difficulty of fostering a critically conscious community among the participating mothers. The mothers discussions typically focused on personal concerns, such as ways to handle the stress of losing a child to the foster care system, rather than on larger community concerns. The mothers were reluctant to publicly present their images. This reluctance may have been due to the intensive scrutiny the mothers


S.S. Harkness, J. Stallworth

generally received from social agencies and other authority figures: their [the mothers] instincts are to hide away from the official gaze for fear of what might befall (p. 435). Kroeger et al. (2004) used photovoice to investigate ways to foster participation of atrisk (defined using the constructs of low test scores, lack of work completion, social emotional difficulties, and behavioral problems) middle grade students in the school community. The students in their study were instructed to take photos that depicted their lives as learners (p. 51). The initial photovoice focus group sessions were teacher-driven, but as time progressed, the students took more active roles in leading discussions. Students described the challenges they faced in classes and teachers began to offer strategies to provide support for their students. A beginning teacher, Dean Whitfield, used photovoice to investigate his students views of science in their world (Meyer & Kroeger, 2005; Whitfield & Meyer, 2005). Whitfield noticed that his students photos of nature were all in containers. For example, one student photographed a terrarium to symbolize an environment and a flower in a pot to embody flora. This assignment created opportunities for Whitfield to learn about his students home lives and science knowledge and to modify his instruction. He incorporated students interests and existing knowledge from outside the classroom into his teaching. Whitfield honored the knowledge of the students, allowing them access to the research process and listening to their voices as captured in the images they took. In summary, photovoice is a participatory action research tool designed to assist participants in achieving the underlying goal of empowerment. It has been used in educational settings and has been proven to provide insights into students unique lives and their experiences in classrooms. It was our intent that the use of photovoice would allow the participants voices to dominate and allow us to listen and respond. The use of voice action research privileges experience over theory, favors excluded voices over dominant voices, relies on its inclusiveness, and honors the people speaking rather than those listening (Hadfield & Haw, 2001). However, we must not assume that voice data from students who participate are representative of the whole category of students (Hadfield & Haw, 2001). Photovoice was the means we used to further analyze each of the girls photographs and interview data based on the work of Belenky et al. 1986) who investigated females epistemological perspectives.

3 Conceptual framework Prior to the groundbreaking work of Gilligan (1982) and Belenky et al. (1986), previous studies of epistemological perspectives had focused exclusively on men (Kohlbergs Stages of Moral Development, 1971). In her book, In a Different Voice, Gilligan critically assessed Kohlbergs theory and contended that Kohlbergs hierarchical stages were not reflective of the way in which moral maturity develops in women. Gilligan argued that, for women, the trajectory for moral development follows a different path and women speak in different voices. Different did not imply that one trajectory was better than another; both value systems need to be honored (Gilligan, 1982). However, as Becker (1995) noted, The word women [in the Belenky Book] is used to refer to all those individuals who think, come to know, or react in a fashion that is common to the majority of women. These individuals may be females or males (p. 164). In a research study that followed Gilligans, Belenky et al. identified six ways of knowing, a sequence that moves from uncritical to critical (Becker, 1995, p. 165). These epistemological perspectives from which women know and view the world (Belenky et al., 1986, p. 15) included



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Silenced knowers feel disconnected from the knowledge in question; they perceive others as authorities of knowledge and negatively view experiences with authorities. Received knowers envision knowledge as a collection of absolute truths received from infallible authorities; they generally lack confidence in their own ability to speak and define themselves in terms which others have assigned to them. Subjective knowers rely on their own experiences, thoughts, and feelings for knowledge and truth; they view their knowledge as personal rather than intellectualized. Procedural knowers recognize that multiple sources of knowledge exist and that there are necessary procedures to evaluate the merit of those sources. Procedural separate knowers have a tendency to accept knowledge that demonstrates a personal or emotional connection to them. Procedural connected knowers seek to understand the viewpoints of others while emphasizing the relevance of context in the development of knowledge. Constructed knowers recognize the interconnected nature of knowledge, knowing, and the knower; they envision knowledge as a malleable form, subject to time, experience, and context.

In fact, both Gilligan (1982) and Belenky et al. (1986) found that in comparisons, men were likely to esteem procedural separate knowing (e.g., logic, rigor, abstraction, certainty, deduction) and women were likely to value procedural connected (e.g., intuition, creativity, conjecture, induction) knowing. Becker (1995) suggested that girls have been disadvantaged in mathematics because the discipline values procedural separate knowing, based on the use of detached procedures to establish truth (deductively), over procedural connected knowing, which builds on personal and shared experiences in a more creative way (inductively). Mathematics is typically taught with a heavy reliance upon written texts which remove its conjectural nature, presenting it as inert information, which should not be questioned (Burton, 2008). However, as Becker noted, how do we know what to set out to prove (separate knowing) if we do not first know things through inductive reasoning (connected knowing)? (p. 167).

4 Research participants Four high school girls, in grades 10 and 11, participated in this research study. We used purposeful sampling in order to obtain rich information (Patton, 1990, p. 169) about a homogenous subgroup. The first participant was Kathy, and she recommended the other participants in a type of purposeful sampling referred to as snowball sampling (Cresswell, 2012). The girls were selected based on their individual struggles with mathematics. They attended three different local public high schools in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky areas (see Fig. 1 for demographic data). Kathy was a 16-year-old African American junior at school A, a magnet public school for creative and performing arts. She auditioned for admission into school A as a dance major and had performed in numerous school productions. Kathy planned on majoring in arts management in college. When she described her plans for the future, she stated the importance of mathematics for her career choice. At the time of the study, she was enrolled in a second year algebra course. Kathy said she wrestled with mathematics and received mostly below average grades; consequently, her parents hired a tutor. Leah was a 16-year-old White sophomore at a local magnet public school, B. She had taken visual arts courses, such as painting, sketching, and photography. She was learning

Name Kathy Leah Maggie Renee Age 16 16 16 17 Grade 11 10 10 11 Race Creative Interests Dance

S.S. Harkness, J. Stallworth

African American White Visual Arts Competition Dance Team African Competition American Dance Team White

Fig. 1 Participants demographic information

how to develop her own photographs in a dark room. Although she was unsure about her future career plans, she hoped that they would not involve mathematics. Leah was enrolled in a geometry course at the time of the study. She said she had to put forth tremendous amounts of effort in order to receive average grades in high school mathematics courses. Maggie was a 16-year-old White sophomore also at school B. She participated on a competition dance team. Additionally, Maggie enjoyed horseback riding and equestrian competitions. She hoped to major in creative writing in college. At the time of the study, Maggie was enrolled in a second year algebra course. She said she received average and above average grades in mathematics, but struggled to uncover the relevance of the content to her life. Renee was a 17-year-old African American junior at school C, a prestigious magnet public school. Students who attended school C took an entrance exam that covered all of the core content areas. Renee had taken tap, jazz, and ballet dance lessons from a local dance studio since the age of 5. She participated on the competition dance team at her studio. Renee wanted to become a veterinarian and knew the importance of mathematics for her career aspirations. At the time of the study, Renee was enrolled in a second year algebra course. Because of poor grades during the regular school year, Renee had to take remedial mathematics during summer school.

5 Methodology 5.1 Design and data collection We gave each girlKathy, Leah, Maggie, and Reneea Kodak disposable camera with 27exposure color film, a packet containing 27 Microsoft PowerPoint blank Notes Pages, and a sheet of paper listing the three questions: (1) What is mathematics? (2) What is your ideal learning environment? (3) What impedes your learning of mathematics? They were asked to take pictures that represented their answers to the three questions. For security, safety, and confidentiality reasons, they were not allowed to take pictures of peoples faces. They used the Notes Pages packets to make sketches of the images they captured and to write down comments to share in the interviews. After the cameras were returned and the pictures developed, individual interviews were conducted. The girls were asked to bring their Notes Pages to the interviews. To begin the interviews, they arranged their pictures into groups based on the three questions. Next, they were asked to describe each picture and explain how it addressed one or more of the research questions. We used open-ended and probing questions such as: Tell us more. Would you



explain your response? Why? The interviews were recorded, transcribed, and presented back to the girls to check for accuracy. 5.2 Analysis To begin the analysis, we used in vivo codes (in the girls own words) and created spreadsheets for each girl with columns for Description of Photo; Research Question(s) Addressed; Girls Description of Photo; and Why She Took It. This helped us get a general sense of the data and look for initial themes for each of the girls responses to the research questions. Next, we analyzed the data using a comparative case study approach (Miles & Huberman, 1994) and the work of Belenky et al. (Womens Ways of Knowing). We used within-case analyses, viewed each case individually, and attempted to learn as much as possible about the context. In order to categorize each of the girls ways of knowing mathematics, we created spreadsheets for each girl (see Fig. 2 for Renees spreadsheet) which listed the ways of knowing with descriptions from Belenky et al. (1986) and Becker (1995). Becker described ways specific to mathematics for each of the ways of knowing proposed by Belenky et al. For each way of knowing, we used key word descriptors to guide our determinations. These descriptors were: silencedfeel (disconnected); receivedenvision (knowledge as absolute truths); subjectiverely (on their own experiences); proceduralaccept (personal or emotional connections) and seek (other viewpoints); constructedrecognize (knowledge as malleable and subject to time, experience, and context). Some photos and quotes fit within multiple ways of knowing, and when this occurred, we came to a consensus about the ways of knowing through a holistic approach, looking at the data globally. Finally, we conducted a cross-case analysis and sought to construct themes across the individual cases using an iterative process. We wanted to know whether the girls photos and descriptions were similar or different for each of the research questions. What could we learn about them individually and as a group?

6 Photos and descriptions 6.1 Kathy 6.1.1 What is mathematics? Kathys explanations of why she took 2 of the 12 photographs which were answers to this question emphasized the theme of real-world connections. In response to a picture of her computer, displaying a popular sports web site, she said: the batting average of somebody and it is something about what math is and how it is something simple like numbers, and obviously it is a large number, but it is something that can represent something so much more than math. Her photograph of a checkbook represented you need to know how to do math otherwise you can end up in serious financial trouble. Additionally, Kathy took nine photographs which represented mathematical topics. She explained a picture of two insects on a sidewalk as representative of what I think math is. And it is two cicadas mating. They multiply like crazy and its kind of disgusting, but thats


S.S. Harkness, J. Stallworth

Belenky et al. Beckers Beckers Description Analysis of Examples Belenky et al. Ways of Knowing Silenced

Photographs Interview Data

Feel disconnected from the knowledge in question. Perceive others as authorities of knowledge and negatively view experiences with authorities.

Accepts authoritys verdict as to what is true.

An inner voice expresses awareness that teachers think base angles are equal.

Show a disconnect with mathematics EX What is mathematics?: broken steps But in this it goes nowhere. And the little math that I know, I dont think is going to take me anywhere.; broken window a shattered view of mathematics; overgrown hedges tangled vines are for all of the mathematical equations and everything that are all muddled up in my head. EX What is your ideal learning environment?: Took no pictures Absence of photos might indicate a negative view of experiences with mathematics teachers (authorities). EX What impedes your learning of mathematics?: airplane cloud trails graph lines in class and I did not really understand.; a series of four photos depicting blue to threatening skies Then as time went on it got darker and darker. Until like finally it was all cloudy in my head and now I dont like it. dance studio has shapes in it and I was really bad in geometry.

Fig. 2 Example of spreadsheet for coding for Renees responses

what I think of math. Kathy added that mathematics is about the basic operations and simple things like multiplication, division, subtraction, and addition. For a cherry pie photo, Kathy described two common interpretations of this image, pi. And it also represents the pie graph and that is how I learned a lot of my math things [she went on to talk about fractions and pie graphs]. When discussing a photo of her two dogs, which differed by breed and size (see Fig. 3), she noted, [the dogs] represent scales of each other. She explained a photograph of mirrors as: there are three of them [mirrors]. And when you click like in the lower corner of them, it pops out. But when they are all clicked in it makes like one plane. And you can click them out and they make different planes [she went on to describe the reflection of a reflected image]. A picture of bathroom floor tiles reminded her of graph paperand the points look like you have been plotting a graph and you want to connect the dots. Kathy connected this image to a tessellating pattern as well.



Fig. 3 Kathys photos

For her description of a photo with a pleated lampshade, she explained that it remind[ed] me of vertexes [sic] and how you can make those on your graphing calculator. The stairwell and railing photo reminded her of a line on a graphgoing up or going down, depending on how you look at it. A photo of an archway in her home (see Fig. 3) reminded me of a parabola [laughs]. An image of a merging traffic sign at a local mall reminded her of a hyperbola[because] it has the two little areas [reflected branches of a hyperbola graph]. 6.1.2 What is your ideal learning environment? An image of a car illustrated the idea that you are never too old to go on field trips. Kathys picture of a calendar showed that she liked it when teachers posted each of the assignments and the stuff that we would be working on. When asked to describe her ideal learning environment, not captured in a photo, she elaborated: I think it would be a room with windows. Clean windows, clear windows.And outside it doesnt have like a street or something busy that you can get easily distracted by but it had just a field that is kind of plain and doesnt change a lot. She also took an image of the front page of a newspaper and noted, This one is the newspaper and that goes in the things that help me with math [learning math] because reading other things besides what is in the textbook helps a lot. Like stuff with real world applications.


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6.1.3 What impedes your learning of mathematics? In response to why she took two pictures, a remote control and her television set, she said: And I find that television-slash-music-slash-other things can be very distractingI cant watch TV and do my homework at the same time. Another image was a sheet of paper with a large red F circled at the top. She expressed annoyance, when your teachers emphasize how youre failing.It doesnt boost your confidence at all Additionally, Kathy talked about her teacher: I feel like my math teacher knows math really wellThere are only a few people who do well in the class. The rest of us, who go off to the help night, and when we are there the other teacher describes it [procedures] and we understand it.when anyone else tries to explain it, it will usually make sense. He got a lot of the things mixed up in my mindand I have to relearn it and it makes it a lot worse. 6.2 Leah 6.2.1 What is mathematics? Leahs picture of a locker (see Fig. 4) represented problem solving within math. Like using the numbers and having a specific system to solve itan order Leah, after writing several numbers on a small whiteboard (see Fig. 4), took a picture of it because it is all about numbers basically. She took a picture of her calculator, in this day and age I cannot live without my calculatorwith all of the functions on it 6.2.2 What is your ideal learning environment? When asked to explain her photograph of an empty classroom, Leah stated that she wanted to show a teacher (but was unable to do so because of the study-related constraint). She does not correspondmy learning style, like at all.When I am in her class, it is hard for me to concentrate because she is always talking about something elseI just dont learn from her well. Leah described her best way to learn as one-on-one with the help of a teacher or tutor. When asked for clarification about a photo of student desks arranged in rows, she explained that she was not very good at learning in environments where I am really comfortable. The final image was of her high school library because she liked having quiet spaces. 6.2.3 What impedes your learning of mathematics? For a photo of a book, she said, if I am really involved in a story or a book, its really hard for me to do my homework until I find out what happens next. Leah explained that her picture of an iPod represented entertaining technology. Additionally, like my iPod and extra stuff like cell phone and electronics. That bothers me.if I am sitting there and I am getting a text message when I am doing my homework, it is a big distraction for me.



Fig. 4 Leahs photos

The final picture she took was of a Pop-Tart because when doing homework, [food] usually makes me stop and eat. It is one of my distractions. Additionally, And then for distractions, I probably would have taken a picture of my camera and of my horse.All I want to do is go out to the barn after school and ride. I have to severely limit myself from going out when I have homework. 6.3 Maggie Maggie took a total of 15 pictures. However, only two of her photographs were developed due to overexposure. She was able to complete the interview because she had sketched her pictures on the Notes Pages. 6.3.1 What is mathematics? Maggies two photographs were in response to this question. For a photograph of a house (see Fig. 5) she noted, it just has symmetry with everything. And it has a bunch of shapes, like triangles and the Pythagorean Theorem and all of that good stuff. A close-up photo of bricks (see Fig. 5) contained tessellations and rectangles. She drew a model car atop her car as this represented ratios and similar figures. Maggies next four sketches also connected to topics. a picture of a tape measurea vase full of marbles for estimation and roundinga clock for precision and exactnesstwo cowboy boots that are toothpick holders for congruency. She wished she had taken a picture of a scale because it would represent equations, with one side equaling another.


S.S. Harkness, J. Stallworth

Fig. 5 Maggies photos

6.3.2 What is your ideal learning environment? Maggie made a sketch of a stereo system with the volume knob on zero because I like it to be quiet. Another showed shapes on an index card because they represented her as a visual learner. If somebody just says you have to do this to this equation, I just dont really get it. I have to write it out for myself (please note that Maggies definition of herself as a visual learner implied that she had to practice examples in order to understand mathematics). A sketch of a large candleholder with eight stone people holding hands represented a small group; she did not like working with really large groups. A sketch of her fireplace symbolized her need to be in a comfortable place. Maggie wished she had taken an image of a file cabinet and a picture of her eighth grade mathematics teacher. The file cabinet represented structure and the teacher forced us to be organized. 6.3.3 What impedes your learning of mathematics? Maggie drew a sketch of her television because she was often guilty of doing her homework in front of it, which was not a good thing. A sketch of her yearbook signified, there are certain people in my class that just get on my nerves and distract me from whatever the teacher is saying. A sketch of a calendar full of dates of extracurricular activities showed how math homework gets pushed back because I have dance or something like that. Another drawn image was of her world history book because usually I do all my other subjects first [before mathematics]. She sketched her cell phone because if I am doing my math and I get a text, I want to answer it. It distracts me



6.4 Renee 6.4.1 What is mathematics? Renee compared a photo of cement steps (see Fig. 6) to another photo of broken wooden steps. In those steps, one of them is just broken and you can see the end of them. And that is broken to me. But in this it [the steps] goes nowhere. And the little math that I know, I dont think is going to take me anywhere.And everywhere I learn something new in math, I dont do it enough for it to really stick in my brain, so it is not really helping me to do anything.To me mathematics is broken steps because I never learned the steps to math. So its broken to me. Renee also harnessed an image of a broken window (see Fig. 6), which represented her shattered view of mathematics. She took a photo of overgrown hedges and weeds because these tangled vines are for all of the mathematical equations and everything that are all muddled up in my head.they just all run together. 6.4.2 What is your ideal learning environment? Renee took no pictures to address this question; however, she drew an image of a local high school where she completed a credit remediation program for science. While there, she learned a lot of math concepts, even though it was a chemistry class. Additionally, she

Fig. 6 Renees photos


S.S. Harkness, J. Stallworth

would have taken a photo of her bedroom because she was able to study and go through things in my room by myself. 6.4.3 What impedes your learning of mathematics? An image of airplane cloud trails reminded her of when we had to graph lines in class and I did not really understand. A series of four pictures showed a clear blue sky, clouds beginning to creep into view, more clouds than blue sky, and an ominous looking sky. Renee said: math started out well for me when I was younger. Thats this picture. Then as time went on it got darker and darker. Until like finally it was all cloudy in my head and now I dont like it. Renee took a picture of her dance studio for three reasons. It has shapes in it and I was really bad in geometry. And because I have been at the studio so muchI never got the time to learn [mathematics]. There was never that kind of time that I could go and get a tutorbecause I was always [at the dance studio] so much.

7 Findings Four creative high school females who described struggles with mathematics took photos to answer the following questions: What is mathematics? What is your ideal learning environment? What things impede your learning of mathematics? Figure 7 (below) shows a summary of the findings, as described by the females in the previous section. Comparing the photographs taken by Kathy and Renee, we noticed that they each used quite distinctive lenses in their responses to the questions. Kathys photographs showed her talent to see mathematics in everyday objects. Additionally, she talked humorously throughout the interview. Recall that one of her photographs showed cicadas mating and she described the connection as, They multiply like crazy and its kind of disgusting, but thats what I think of math. On the other hand, Renees photographic lens seemed to focus on metaphors for her own self-image with mathematics: broken steps, clouds gathering before the storm, and tangled vines. The interview was much more serious and heart-wrenching. However, both girls were creative in their approaches to answering the questions and taking the photographs. We believe that mathematics is a humanistic and creative endeavor, built upon patterns and logic, and used to solve problems. However, all of these females took photos of objects with numbers on them or objects related to topics in mathematics courses in response to the question What is mathematics? Three of the girls (Kathy, Leah, and Renee) made references to mathematics as procedures and rules which had to be memorized, consistent with a view of a disconnect between school and everyday situations (Boaler, 1993). Kathy and Renee described connections between mathematics and the real world. Ideal learning environments seemed distinct for each female. Leah and Maggie preferred quiet spaces. Maggie liked working in small groups, but it depended on whos in the group. Kathy wanted mathematics to be taught so that it related to the real world. Renee drew one sketch to show her ideal learning environment, a school she attended for a chemistry class in summer because she learned a lot of math concepts. Kathy and Leah



What is mathematics? (# of photos or drawn images or descriptions) Kathy Real world connections (2); Mathematical topics (9)


Numbers and calculations (3)


Mathematical topics (7)


muddled equations (3)

What is your ideal learning environment? (# of photos or drawn images or descriptions) Field trips (1); Teachers who help students organize workloads (1); Room with windows but no distractions (1); Reading things with real world connections (1) Order and quiet spaces (3); Teacher who talks about something else (1) Quiet and comfort (2); Practice on her own (1); Small group work (1); Teacher who is structured and organized (1) Interdisciplinary learning (1); Alone in her bedroom (1)

What impedes your learning of mathematics? (# of photos or drawn images or descriptions) Things which cause distractions (2); Failing grades (1); Teacher who does not explain math well (1)

Things which cause distractions (5)

Things which cause distractions (5)

Not understanding (6); Things which cause distractions (1); Time constraints (1)

Fig. 7 Themes for each question

gave examples of teachers who helped create ideal learning environments. According to the girls, these teachers were organized, patient, gave thorough explanations, one-on-one help, showed them tricks, or gave them tips that helped make the math stick. No girls mentioned teachers who challenged them to be creative, find patterns, use logic, and solve problems. Impediments to learning also varied. However, all females talked about distractionsfood, noise, cell phones, extracurricular activitieswhich prevented homework completion. All talked about homework completion as though practicing exercises was the key to learning mathematics. Kathy took a picture of a sheet of paper with a large red F circled at the top of the page. Low grades on mathematics papers were not motivating for her; they merely caused her to shut down and stop trying to succeed. Low grades hindered her learning.

8 Discussion The framework of Belenky et al. (1986) helped us consider how each girl knew mathematics. Renee felt disconnected from mathematics, typical of a silenced knower. Leah and Maggie lacked confidence with mathematics and defined their mathematical skills in terms that more capable others (teachers) had assigned to them, characteristics of received knowers. Kathy was beginning to rely on her own experiences, thoughts, and feelings with mathematics, traits of what we termed a fragily subjective knower. We used the term


S.S. Harkness, J. Stallworth

fragily because Kathy was beginning to question more capable others views of her mathematical skills and see mathematics as something she could understand through patterns and reflection. Four smart, creative, hardworking females: Why did they know mathematics in silenced, received, and subjective ways? What could we, their tutors, or perhaps their teachers do to help them move from knowing mathematics in these ways to the ways of knowing it as constructedfallible and subject to assumptions and context? The images captured by Renee and her metaphorical descriptions were agonizing. They caused us to feel assured that Renee needed different kinds of support than the other girls. Based on the photographs she took with her camera and her voice during the interview, Renees selfimage was much more broken. She needed to understand mathematics as a humanistic discipline in which results are not absolute and immutable, but are socially constructed and fallible (Borasi, 1986, 1991; Borasi & Siegel, 1989). She needed experiences which moved her away from dependence on procedures to creative thinking, to be challenged with problems which she could solve in her own ways rather than with memorized rules. Leah and Maggie also needed to shift away from reliance on their teachers in order to see themselves as mathematicians. Perhaps, they needed to balance their performance goals, or focus on grades, with learning goals. When students have learning goals, they focus primarily on mastering tasks and learning for learnings sake; students with learning goals see a direct relationship between effort and learning, they prefer moderately challenging tasks, and are willing to put forth more effort to complete them (Ames, 1992; Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Dweck, 1986). As their tutors, we could deemphasize correct answers and honor the strategies and methods they used to arrive at their answers. Even if their answers were wrong, we could play the believing game (Harkness, 2009; Harkness, Lane, Mau, & Brass, 20092010) and attempt to find what was right with their mathematical thinking. Kathy was ready to be challenged to see the relevance of context and assumptions as these help shape mathematical knowing. Fermi-type or order-of-magnitude problems with real-life contexts and more than one possible solution would help Kathy become aware of assumptions and context as they relate to real-world mathematical encounters. She needed experiences which would allow her to see multiple solutions to problems based on different assumptions by the problem solvers. In fact, open-ended Fermi or order-of- magnitude problems with social justice themes would enhance her awareness that mathematics can be used to empower herself and others. In the USA, womens participation in mathematics decreases as they move to higher education and professional levels, this despite the statistics that show girls and boys take similar courses during high school years, ages 1518 years (National Center for Education Statistics, 1997). The contributing factors are complex. However, three of the four girls in our study indicated that mathematics would play a role in the careers they planned to choose. Based on the photos they took and the conversations we had in the interviews, we saw (in the photos) and heard (in their voices) descriptions of themselves as learners of mathematics, what Mendick (2002) termed as identity work. We also saw and heard the anguish and struggles that these creative and smart girls braved. Even more importantly, we learned much about ourselves as researchers and mathematics educators. These lessons follow in the next section.

9 Implications This study was limited to analysis of only four girls photos and descriptions; however, what we found gave us pause to consider the proposal set forth by Burton (2008) to redefine



mathematics in terms of five categories based on her analysis of philosophical, pedagogical, and feminist literature.

& & & & &

Its person- and cultural/social-relatedness The aesthetics of mathematical thinking it evokes Its nurturing of intuition and insight Its recognition and celebration of different approaches particularly in styles of thinking The globality of its applications. (p. 26)

Mathematics could then be re-perceived as humane, responsive, negotiable and creative (Burton, 2008, p. 27). Photovoice could be used by mathematics teachers to help them connect to their students and begin to re-perceive it as such. Our suggestion would be to use it at the beginning of the school year as a tool to help teachers understand the perspectives of their students. Instead of individual interviews, students could share their photos with the entire class or within focus groups. Teachers could assign students to focus groups based on an initial analysis of the photos for each student, perhaps putting students with very different perspectives of mathematics in the same group. Discussions could center around the re-perceiving (Burton) of mathematics and teachers could structure experiences for their students based on their analysis of the photographs and conversations. At a more systemic level and based on the work of Fryer & Levitt (2010), perhaps in the USA, we should conduct research about the mathematics achievement of girls enrolled in same-sex schools. Does girls mathematics achievement in all-girls schools compare to international measures? Would same-sex classrooms for mathematics courses help eliminate the gender gap that exits in the USA (Fryer & Levitt, 2010)? How would girls, enrolled in same-sex high schools, photos compare to those taken by Kathy, Leah, Maggie, and Renee?

10 Conclusion There are dangers in using student-vacant research projects to inform our instruction (Bishop, 1993). However, our initial search for research designs that used student voice data proved sparse; we found only two such studies situated within mathematics classrooms (Moody & Moyer, 1999; Steele, 1994). Challenging assumptions of the voice to effect change, Hadfield and Haw (2001) noted: Although professionals have employed a range of innovative methods for reaching out to and working with excluded and vulnerable people there is little evidence to suggest that they have been able to have an effect on the wider policy concerns of local authorities and service providers. As professionals we need to ask ourselves why this should be so. (p. 492) There is also danger in placing our students into isolated categories of experience as this can produce a subtle form of silence (Hadfield & Haw, 2001). Perhaps the effect we can have is within our own classrooms as we teach and connect with each individual student. Based on what we learned about each girl through the use of the photovoice methodology, we were able to think deeply about their ways of knowing (Belenky et al., 1986) and implement tutoring strategies to meet their individual needs. As proposed by Becker (1995), if mathematics were taught in ways that valued connected knowingintuition, creativity, conjecture, experience, induction, to name a fewperhaps more girls would enjoy mathematics and choose careers in mathematics.


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We need to create spaces so teachers and students can begin to tell their stories and to have responses from many different voices in order to help them imagine new possible retellings (Connelly & Clandinin, 1994, p. 158). Photovoice helped us connect and understand the ways that these girls saw and came to know mathematics. Additionally, the framework of Belenky et al. (1986) helped inform our tutoring practice. What might happen if the roar which lies on the other side of silence (Belenky et al., 1986, p. 4) spoke out? Perhaps photovoice has the power to facilitate the nurturing of silence as it moves toward the roar.

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