The use of mathematics register as a reflection of conceptual understanding: an exploratory study

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Education (MEd)

First Supervisor/Advisor

Dr. Lilian Vikiru

Second Supervisor/Advisor

Peter Kajoro

Third Supervisor/Advisor

Sara Hennessy


Institute for Educational Development, East Africa


Mathematics teachers, students and Mathematics textbooks use language (English) to communicate mathematical concepts. Mathematical concepts are abstract in nature and can only be realized and articulated through language. This study recognizes the importance of language by emphasizing the correct use of mathematical vocabulary and symbols in communicating mathematical concepts. Mathematical vocabulary comprises lexical words, ordinary words, and technical words. Lexical words, such as ‘common’,’ again’ and ‘deduction’, have a similar meaning in mathematical English as in everyday English. Ordinary words such as ‘enlargement’, ‘characteristics’ and ‘real number’, occur both in everyday English and mathematical English but have different meanings in mathematics (specialised meaning). Technical words have different meanings in Mathematics (specialized meaning). Technical words have a meaning in mathematical English only, for example ‘integers’, ‘histogram’, and ‘polygon’. The correct use of language specifically to communicate mathematical concepts forms Mathematics register. This study investigated the use of Mathematics register by form two students as a reflection of conceptual understanding.

The data for this study was collected through document analysis, administering a Mathematics exercise, and conducting interviews. Several document such as the form two Mathematics syllabus, the national Mathematics examination past papers and the core textbook for form two Mathematics were analysed to determine the mathematics register present and how it is infused in the content. The study also analysed a written mathematical task done on one topic in form two. The collected data was mainly in form of words though some numeric data was obtained which was analysed qualitatively. Therefore, this study took a qualitative approach.

The main findings of the study show that students’ knowledge of mathematical vocabulary is based on ordinary meaning as opposed to specific attributes of the terms that constitute concepts. This affects their perception of visual representations of concepts and consequently the understanding of mathematical concepts. The study recommends teaching correct use of mathematical vocabulary together with diagrams, graphs, drawings, and symbols to support development of the vocabulary in order to attain Mathematics learning for conceptual understanding.

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