Background to the Study
Mathematics as a subject has a language of its own, with its signs, vocabularies, symbols and notations and plays an important role in the development of human mind and thinking. Hence, the first hurdle a student must face in learning to solve mathematical problems is the ability to understand the language in which the problems are framed (Udousoro, 2006). Language is a system of sounds and written symbols used by people to communicate with one another. For mathematics, according to Akpan (2002), it is seen in its symbolism, terms and notations which are different from that of ordinary English language. A good understanding of English language and the ability to comprehend mathematical language are very crucial skills in solving mathematical problems. Mathematical language plays the role of supplying verbal symbols, which can represent concepts and be used as stimuli for the internalized manipulation of concepts.
Vocabulary knowledge is as essential to learning of mathematics as it is to learning how to read. In language arts, mathematical words conjure up graphic representations of the objects they label. But when it comes to abstract mathematical concepts, words describe activities or relationships that often lack a visual counterpart. Yet studies show that children grasp the idea of quantity, as well as other relational concepts, from a very early age (Dehaene, 2007).
Mathematics is one of the core subjects taught in contemporary human society. It is an indispensable discipline in various field such as science, Engineering, Technology, social sciences, Arts and others disciplines that are related. Many educators have considered it as an indispensable to the educated man or woman. As a result of its importance, it has been considered as a key subject in the school curriculum. Nevertheless, Mathematics is the language of science.
Mathematics by educational policy is made compulsory and it is among the core subjects that have to be passed before any certificate can be issued or awarded to anyone.
The relevance of Mathematics to the society cannot be over- emphasized. As mathematics is a tool in science, industry and commerce. It will enhance understanding of students who have interest in mathematics. It will help the student to correct certain ills of the society; one very important characteristic of child centered approaches is play away method or activities. Method which they emphasized in mathematics like other subject should be made practical where possible in the classroom.
Mathematical vocabulary refers to words that label mathematical concepts for example quotient, volume, vertex, dividend, and hexagon (Sanders, 2007). According to Miller (2003) students are likely to be handicapped in their effort to learn mathematics if they do not understand the vocabulary that is used in mathematics classrooms, textbooks and assessment tests. One of the obstacles that make mathematical vocabulary difficult to learn is lack of opportunity (Paul and Sinha,2010). This is because much of the vocabulary used in mathematics classroom is rarely encountered in everyday life. In addition, mathematics teachers often neglect meaningful vocabulary instruction. Also, many terms have meanings in the realm of mathematics that differ from their meanings in everyday usage (Njoroge, 2003).
Without appropriate vocabulary instruction, students are likely to experience difficulties and interference in the learning of concepts for which they have background knowledge that appears unrelated to mathematics. Students need to know the meaning of mathematics vocabulary words-whether written or spoken-in order to understand and communicate mathematics ideas. According to Sanders (2007), terms, phrases, and symbols are essential in communicating mathematical ideas; and becoming fluent with them is vital for children’s mathematical learning.
Research reveals that the knowledge of mathematics vocabulary directly affects achievement in arithmetic, particularly problem-solving (Staley, 2005). Donoghue (2009) indicated that vocabulary knowledge is strongly related to overall academic achievement in school. Although students may excel in computation, their ability to apply their mathematics skills will be hindered if they do not understand the vocabulary required to master content and able to apply in future situations. Thus teaching vocabulary in the mathematics content area is a critical element of effective instruction.
Although Mathematics is a visual language of symbols and numbers, it is expressed and explained through written and spoken words. Thus, for students to excel in Mathematics, they must recognize, comprehend and apply the requisite mathematical terminologies. Teaching mathematical vocabulary words solely as definitions as is the practice in most Nigerian schools does not assist students in comprehending the word when found in Mathematics textbooks and examination items. Students must be actively engaged in building background knowledge using key content-specific vocabulary.
The purpose of this study therefore, is to investigate whether there is any relationship between students’ understanding of mathematical terminologies and their achievement in mathematics in Ekiti State, Nigeria.
Statement of the Problem
It has been observed that many secondary school students finds mathematics as a difficult subject to pass due to their inability to comprehend effectively the terminologies of Mathematics used in the curriculum. The final year academic output in mathematics in West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) and other external examinations signify the poor knowledge of students about the vocabularies used in the teaching content. It is against this background that the researcher wishes to critically examine the students’ knowledge on terminologies (Mathematical Language) used in curriculum of junior secondary school.