Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education


Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Dr Jack Bana


The purpose of this study was to research the effect of money as a context on school students’ mental computational performance and strategy choices across a range of ages. This study adds to existing research, which has compared students' mental computational methods with their written methods, by the provision of the single common context of money. The content topics of whole and other rational numbers (simple fractions, decimals, and some percentages) were covered. Forty-eight primary school students plus sixteen secondary school students were involved in this study, with equal numbers of both genders from the two primary schools and one secondary school in the Perth metropolitan area. The method followed was both quantitative-by scoring test results-and qualitative-through tape-recorded interviews. Students' prior experiences with money were documented and performance data were collected on students' mental computation ability for the two sets of mathematically identical items presented in a money-context and context-free. Student strategy choices were also documented. The semi-structured interviews consisted of nine money experience questions such as, How often do you get pocket money or an allowance? In addition, 10, 12, 13, and 13 pairs of mental computation items for Years 3, S, 7 and 9 respectively. Where possible, common items were used across two or more year levels to ascertain growth in mental computation skills. Overall, results found that the context presentation did not make a difference to student performance and there was no correlation found between performance and student preference for one presentation or the other. No performance differences were found for gender. Year 3 recorded the lowest process scores, while Year 7 recorded the highest process scores although all the items used at both Year 7 and Year 9 were identical. The greatest growth in mental computation performance was found to occur from Year 3 to Year 5 and from Year 5 to Year 7. Further, for Year 3, results found that the context presentation had a negative impact on student performance. Some students were found to be using written methods mentally. Analysis of individual items revealed that context had a positive influence in some cases. However, despite the emphasis in modem curricula on the use of context, it appears that such an approach may have little value if used in contrived rather than real situations. Recommendations for teaching practice include promoting real experiences at school by linking students' out-of-school experiences to classroom learning, such as exploring students' pocket-money purchasing power or promoting mental computation for a variety of context tasks. It is considered likely that mental computation in classrooms tends to be non-contextual and it is recommended that teachers should make more use of context. It is further recommended that teachers use money as a context, with mental computation items presented as part of areal shopping tasks. Oral presentation would remove typical school method cues – a ‘sheet’ and pencil – with the only visual stimuli being the goods and price labelling. Class shops could use simulations for the junior grades, while older grades could organise real money exchange experiences integrated with other curriculum areas such as raising money for charitable causes. Research on the effect of other common contexts such as food, time, and other measurement topics should also utilise real activities, with examples of such being readily found in the media. The provision of a variety of contexts is important for students as what constitutes a meaningful context may vary from individual to individual.

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