Research in Science Education

, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 77–97 | Cite as

Responding to a Relevance Imperative in School Science and Mathematics: Humanising the Curriculum Through Story

  • Linda Darby-Hobbs


There has been a recent push to reframe curriculum and pedagogy in ways that make school more meaningful and relevant to students’ lives and perceived needs. This ‘relevance imperative’ is evident in contemporary rhetoric surrounding quality education, and particularly in relation to the junior secondary years where student disengagement with schooling continues to abate. This paper explores how teachers translate this imperative into their mathematics and science teaching. Interview data and critical incidents from classroom practice are used to explore how six teachers attempted to make the subject matter meaningful for their students. Four ‘Categories of Meaning Making’ emerged, highlighting key differences in how the nature of science and mathematics content constrained or enabled linkages between content and students’ lifeworlds. While the teachers demonstrated a commitment to humanising the subject at some level, this analysis has shown that expecting teachers to make the curriculum relevant is not unproblematic because the meaning of relevance as a construct is complex, subject-specific, and embedded in understanding the human dimensions of learning, using, and identifying with, content. Through an examination of the construct of relevance and a humanistic turn in mathematics and science literature I argue for an expanded notion of relevance.


Science teaching Mathematics teaching Relevance Humanistic education Meaning making Stories Narrative Video stimulated recall Teacher identity Teacher passion 



I acknowledge the Australian Research Council and the Victorian Department of Education for their funding in support of the Improving Middle Years Mathematics and Science project with which this research is associated.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.RMIT UniversityBundooraAustralia

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