Original Research

Teacher narratives in making sense of the statistical mean algorithm

Erna Lampen
Pythagoras | Vol 36, No 1 | a281 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/pythagoras.v36i1.281 | © 2015 Erna Lampen | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 12 November 2014 | Published: 24 June 2015

About the author(s)

Erna Lampen, School of Education, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa; Research Unit for Mathematics Education, Stellenbosch University, South Africa

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Teaching statistics meaningfully at school level requires that mathematics teachers conduct classroom discussions in ways that give statistical meaning to mathematical concepts and enable learners to develop integrated statistical thinking. Key to statistical discourse are narratives about variation within and between distributions of measurements and comparison of varying measurements to a central anchoring value. Teachers who understand the concepts and tools of statistics in an isolated and processual way cannot teach in such a connected way. Teachers’ discourses about the mean tend to be particularly processual and lead to limited understanding of the statistical mean as measure of centre in order to compare variation within data sets. In this article I report on findings from an analysis of discussions about the statistical mean by a group of teachers. The findings suggest that discourses for instruction in statistics should explicitly differentiate between the everyday ‘average’ and the statistical mean, and explain the meaning of the arithmetic algorithm for the mean. I propose a narrative that logically explains the mean algorithm in order to establish the mean as an origin in a measurement of variation discourse.


Statistical mean; mean algorithm; teacher narratives


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