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“If you're doubting yourself then, what's the fun in that? An exploration of why prospective secondary mathematics teachers perceive statistics as difficult

Aisling M. Leavy, Ailish Hannigan, and Olivia Fitzmaurice

Most research into prospective secondary mathematics teachers’ attitudes towards statistics
indicates generally positive attitudes but a perception that statistics is difficult to learn. These
perceptions of statistics as a difficult subject to learn may impact the approaches of prospective
teachers to teaching statistics and in turn their students’ perceptions of statistics. This study is the
qualitative component of a larger quantitative study. The quantitative study (Hannigan, Gill and
Leavy 2013) investigated the conceptual knowledge of and attitudes towards statistics of a larger
group of prospective secondary mathematics teachers (n=134). For the purposes of the present
study, nine prospective secondary teachers, eight of whom were part of the larger study, were
interviewed regarding their perceptions of learning and teaching statistics. This study extends our
understandings garnered from the quantitative study by exploring the factors that contribute to
the perception of statistics as being difficult to learn. The analysis makes explicit the tensions in
learning statistics by highlighting the nature of thinking and reasoning unique to statistics and the
somewhat ambiguous influence of language and context on perceptions of difficulty. It also
provides insights into prospective teachers’ experiences and perceptions of teaching statistics
and reveals that prospective teachers who perceive statistics as difficult to learn avoided teaching
statistics as part of their teaching practice field placement.