Emotions are an integral part of problem-solving, but must emotions traditionally conceptualised as "negative" have negative consequences in learning? Frustration is one of the most prominent emotions reported during mathematical problem-solving across all levels of learning. Despite research aiming to mitigate frustration, it can play a positive role during mathematical problem solving. A systematic review method was used to explore how frustration usually appears in students during mathematical problem-solving and the typical patterns of emotions, behaviours, and cognitive processes that are associated with its occurrence. The findings are mixed, which informs the need for further research in this area. Additionally, there are theories and qualitative findings about the potential positive role of frustration that have not been followed up with empirical investigations, which illuminate how our findings about negative emotions may be limited by the questions we ask as researchers. With the support of research, I consider how educators may directly or indirectly address rethinking the role and consequences of frustration during problem-solving with their students.
Citation: |
Table 1. Literature search and processing of records
Table 2. Studies selected for the systematic review and the role of frustration
Author(s) | Method | Participants | Role |
Bjuland [24] | QL | Student teachers | positive |
Carlson & Bloom [27] | QL | Mathematicians (N = 12) | inconclusive |
Chen et al. [18] | MM | Case study of a 9-year-old boy | negative |
DeBellis & Goldin [26] | QL | High school students (N = 8) | positive |
DeBellis & Goldin [10] | T/QL | 9-10 year olds (N = 19) | both |
Di Leo & Muis [13] | MM | Grade 5 students (N = 57) | negative |
Di Leo et al. [11] | MM | Study 1: Grade 5-6 students (N = 138); Study 2: Grade 5 students (N = 79) | both |
Galán & Beal [16] | QN | Undergraduate students (N = 16) | negative |
Goldin [23] | T | n/a | both |
Goldin [5] | T | n/a | both |
Goldin [20] | T | n/a | both |
Goldin et al. [19] | T | n/a | both |
Gómez et al. [17] | QN | Grade 9 students (N = 452) | negative |
McCleod [21] | T | n/a | negative |
Muis et al. [12] | MM | Grade 5 students (N = 79) | negative |
Munzar et al. [14] | MM | Study 1: Grade 3-6 students (N = 136); Study 2: Grade 5 students (N = 80) | negative |
O'Dell [29] | QL | Grade 4-5 students (N = 10) | positive |
Presmeg & Balderas-Cañas [28] | QL | Graduate students (N = 4) | both |
Voica et al. [25] | MM | Pre-service teachers (N = 114) | inconclusive |
Weber [22] | QL | Case study of an undergraduate student | negative |
Note. QL = Qualitative, QN = Quantitative, T = Theoretical, MM = Mixed Methods |
Table 3. Summary of the findings on the role of frustration in mathematical problem-solving by study participants
Positive | Negative | Both | Inconclusive | Total | |
Primary | 1 | 4 | 2 | - | 7 |
Secondary | 1 | 1 | - | - | 2 |
Tertiary | - | 2 | 1 | - | 3 |
Student-teachers | 1 | - | - | 1 | 2 |
Mathematicians | - | - | - | 1 | 1 |
Total | 3 | 7 | 3 | 2 | 15 |
*Note. The exclusively theoretical papers were not applicable so were not included (N = 15) |
Table 4. Summary of the role of frustration in mathematical problem-solving by study methods
Positive | Negative | Both | Omitted | Total | |
Qualitative | 3 | 1 | 1 | 1 | 6 |
Quantitative | - | 2 | - | - | 2 |
Mixed-Methods | - | 4 | 1 | 1 | 6 |
Theoretical | - | 1 | 5 | - | 6 |
Total | 3 | 8 | 7 | 2 | 20 |
*Note. DeBellis & Goldin [10] was included as a theoretical study as this is where the discussion of the role of frustration is dominant. |
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