Contextualization of mathematics: which and whose world?

Laurie H. Rubel, Andrea V. McCloskey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We frame teachers’ contextualization of mathematics (CoM) as a classroom-based identity resource. We explore CoM in secondary classrooms in the segregated school landscape of the US, focusing specifically on schools that serve primarily low-income Black and Latinx students. We review literature that discusses commonly-cited affordances for CoM according to formative, affective, functional literacy, and critical literacy rationales and problematize those rationales relative to prior research. We analyze 58 lessons from 12 classrooms at 11 schools to reveal patterns in CoM relative to those commonly cited affordances. The formative, affective, and functional literacy rationales were frequently evident. Teachers draw largely on generic human experiences and marketplace contexts, positioning students as consumers or employees. There were few instances of CoM naming racism or inequality, and our analysis further reveals blind spots in these efforts. Our discussion considers the implications of these patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)383-404
Number of pages22
JournalEducational Studies in Mathematics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant 0742614.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V. part of Springer Nature.


  • Equity
  • Mathematics education
  • Real-world contexts
  • Secondary education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • General Mathematics


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