This study investigated the impact of engagement with the task context by upper secondary students on their performance on applications tasks and teacher beliefs about the effects of students' engagement with task context. Moderate to high engagement with a task context was not often associated with poor performance which was more likely to be associated with no to low engagement. High engagement with task context was not a necessary condition for success as the degree of engagement necessary for success may be task specific. Engagement with task context alone was not of sufficient explanatory power to account for all the patterns in the data and it is acknowledged other factors need to be considered. Students identified a sense of realism and having an objective to work towards as facilitators of their engaging with task context. Amongst the teachers interviewed, there was support for the following beliefs: (a) students' preferred degree of contextualisation determines whether success is accompanied by engagement with the task context; (b) if the mathematics is not integrated with the task context, students will not engage with the context and will develop the habit of ignoring it; (c) if the two are integrated, students will engage with the task context; (d) the setting of tasks where the context transcends reality is problematic. The last of these was not supported by all teachers, however.
Gloria Stillman, James Cook University, Australia