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Exploring Student Thinking in Novel Linear Relationship Problems

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This is a report of a study that investigated the thinking of a high-achieving precalculus student when responding to tasks that required him to define linear formulas to relate covarying quantities. Two interviews were conducted for analysis. A team of

This is a report of a study that investigated the thinking of a high-achieving precalculus student when responding to tasks that required him to define linear formulas to relate covarying quantities. Two interviews were conducted for analysis. A team of us in the mathematics education department at Arizona State University initially identified mental actions that we conjectured were needed for constructing meaningful linear formulas. This guided the development of tasks for the sequence of clinical interviews with one high-performing precalculus student. Analysis of the interview data revealed that in instances when the subject engaged in meaning making that led to him imagining and identifying the relevant quantities and how they change together, he was able to give accurate definitions of variables and was usually able to define a formula to relate the two quantities of interest. However, we found that the student sometimes had difficulty imagining how the two quantities of interest were changing together. At other times he exhibited a weak understanding of the operation of subtraction and the idea of constant rate of change. He did not appear to conceptualize subtraction as a quantitative comparison. His inability to conceptualize a constant rate of change as a proportional relationship between the changes in two quantities also presented an obstacle in his developing a meaningful formula that relied on this understanding. The results further stress the need to develop a student's ability to engage in mental operations that involve covarying quantities and a more robust understanding of constant rate of change since these abilities and understanding are critical for student success in future courses in mathematics.

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2014-05

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Conceptions of function composition in college precalculus students

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Past research has shown that students have difficulty developing a robust conception of function. However, little prior research has been performed dealing with student knowledge of function composition, a potentially powerful mathematical concept. This dissertation reports the results of an

Past research has shown that students have difficulty developing a robust conception of function. However, little prior research has been performed dealing with student knowledge of function composition, a potentially powerful mathematical concept. This dissertation reports the results of an investigation into student understanding and use of function composition, set against the backdrop of a precalculus class that emphasized quantification and covariational reasoning. The data were collected using task-based, semi-structured clinical interviews with individual students outside the classroom. Findings from this study revealed that factors such as the student's quantitative reasoning, covariational reasoning, problem solving behaviors, and view of function influence how a student understands and uses function composition. The results of the study characterize some of the subtle ways in which these factors impact students' ability to understand and use function composition to solve problems. Findings also revealed that other factors such as a students' persistence, disposition towards "meaning making" for the purpose of conceptualizing quantitative relationships, familiarity with the context of a problem, procedural fluency, and student knowledge of rules of "order of operations" impact a students' progress in advancing her/his solution approach.

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2014

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An examination of the effect of a secondary teacher's image of instructional constraints on his enacted subject matter knowledge

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Teachers must recognize the knowledge they possess as appropriate to employ in the process of achieving their goals and objectives in the context of practice. Such recognition is subject to a host of cognitive and affective processes that have thus

Teachers must recognize the knowledge they possess as appropriate to employ in the process of achieving their goals and objectives in the context of practice. Such recognition is subject to a host of cognitive and affective processes that have thus far not been a central focus of research on teacher knowledge in mathematics education. To address this need, this dissertation study examined the role of a secondary mathematics teacher’s image of instructional constraints on his enacted subject matter knowledge. I collected data in three phases. First, I conducted a series of task-based clinical interviews that allowed me to construct a model of David’s mathematical knowledge of sine and cosine functions. Second, I conducted pre-lesson interviews, collected journal entries, and examined David’s instruction to characterize the mathematical knowledge he utilized in the context of designing and implementing lessons. Third, I conducted a series of semi-structured clinical interviews to identify the circumstances David appraised as constraints on his practice and to ascertain the role of these constraints on the quality of David’s enacted subject matter knowledge. My analysis revealed that although David possessed many productive ways of understanding that allowed him to engage students in meaningful learning experiences, I observed discrepancies between and within David’s mathematical knowledge and his enacted mathematical knowledge. These discrepancies were not occasioned by David’s active compensation for the circumstances and events he appraised as instructional constraints, but instead resulted from David possessing multiple schemes for particular ideas related to trigonometric functions, as well as from his unawareness of the mental actions and operations that comprised these often powerful but uncoordinated cognitive schemes. This lack of conscious awareness made David ill-equipped to define his instructional goals in terms of the mental activity in which he intended his students to engage, which further conditioned the circumstances and events he appraised as constraints on his practice. David’s image of instructional constraints therefore did not affect his enacted subject matter knowledge. Rather, characteristics of David’s subject matter knowledge, namely his uncoordinated cognitive schemes and his unawareness of the mental actions and operations that comprise them, affected his image of instructional constraints.

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2015

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Perturbing practices: a case study of the effects of virtual manipulatives as novel didactic objects on rational function instruction

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The advancement of technology has substantively changed the practices of numerous professions, including teaching. When an instructor first adopts a new technology, established classroom practices are perturbed. These perturbations can have positive and negative, large or small, and long- or

The advancement of technology has substantively changed the practices of numerous professions, including teaching. When an instructor first adopts a new technology, established classroom practices are perturbed. These perturbations can have positive and negative, large or small, and long- or short-term effects on instructors’ abilities to teach mathematical concepts with the new technology. Therefore, in order to better understand teaching with technology, we need to take a closer look at the adoption of new technology in a mathematics classroom. Using interviews and classroom observations, I explored perturbations in mathematical classroom practices as an instructor implemented virtual manipulatives as novel didactic objects in rational function instruction. In particular, the instructor used didactic objects that were designed to lay the foundation for developing a conceptual understanding of rational functions through the coordination of relative size of the value of the numerator in terms of the value of the denominator. The results are organized according to a taxonomy that captures leader actions, communication, expectations of technology, roles, timing, student engagement, and mathematical conceptions.

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2017

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Secondary teachers' and calculus students' meanings for fraction, measure and rate of change

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This dissertation reports three studies of students’ and teachers’ meanings for quotient, fraction, measure, rate, and rate of change functions. Each study investigated individual’s schemes (or meanings) for foundational mathematical ideas. Conceptual analysis of what constitutes strong meanings for fraction,

This dissertation reports three studies of students’ and teachers’ meanings for quotient, fraction, measure, rate, and rate of change functions. Each study investigated individual’s schemes (or meanings) for foundational mathematical ideas. Conceptual analysis of what constitutes strong meanings for fraction, measure, and rate of change is critical for each study. In particular, each study distinguishes additive and multiplicative meanings for fraction and rate of change.

The first paper reports an investigation of 251 high school mathematics teachers’ meanings for slope, measurement, and rate of change. Most teachers conveyed primarily additive and formulaic meanings for slope and rate of change on written items. Few teachers conveyed that a rate of change compares the relative sizes of changes in two quantities. Teachers’ weak measurement schemes were associated with limited meanings for rate of change. Overall, the data suggests that rate of change should be a topics of targeted professional development.

The second paper reports the quantitative part of a mixed method study of 153 calculus students at a large public university. The majority of calculus students not only have weak meanings for fraction, measure, and constant rates but that having weak meanings is predictive of lower scores on a test about rate of change functions. Regression is used to determine the variation in student success on questions about rate of change functions (derivatives) associated with variation in success on fraction, measure, rate, and covariation items.

The third paper investigates the implications of two students’ fraction schemes for their understanding of rate of change functions. Students’ weak measurement schemes obstructed their ability to construct a rate of change function given the graph of an original function. The two students did not coordinate three levels of units, and struggled to relate partitioning and iterating in a way that would help them reason about fractions, rate of change, and rate of change functions.

Taken as a whole the studies show that the majority of secondary teachers and calculus students studied have weak meanings for foundational ideas and that these weaknesses cause them problems in making sense of more applications of rate of change.

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Date Created
2016

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Exponential Growth and Online Learning Environments: Designing for and Studying the Development of Student Meanings in Online Courses

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This dissertation report follows a three-paper format, with each paper having a different but related focus. In Paper 1 I discuss conceptual analysis of mathematical ideas relative to its place within cognitive learning theories and research studies. In particular, I

This dissertation report follows a three-paper format, with each paper having a different but related focus. In Paper 1 I discuss conceptual analysis of mathematical ideas relative to its place within cognitive learning theories and research studies. In particular, I highlight specific ways mathematics education research uses conceptual analysis and discuss the implications of these uses for interpreting and leveraging results to produce empirically tested learning trajectories. From my summary and analysis I develop two recommendations for the cognitive researchers developing empirically supported learning trajectories. (1) A researcher should frame his/her work, and analyze others’ work, within the researcher’s image of a broadly coherent trajectory for student learning and (2) that the field should work towards a common understanding for the meaning of a hypothetical learning trajectory.

In Paper 2 I argue that prior research in online learning has tested the impact of online courses on measures such as student retention rates, satisfaction scores, and GPA but that research is needed to describe the meanings students construct for mathematical ideas researchers have identified as critical to their success in future math courses and other STEM fields. This paper discusses the need for a new focus in studying online mathematics learning and calls for cognitive researchers to begin developing a productive methodology for examining the meanings students construct while engaged in online lessons.

Paper 3 describes the online Precalculus course intervention we designed around measurement imagery and quantitative reasoning as themes that unite topics across units. I report results relative to the meanings students developed for exponential functions and related ideas (such as percent change and growth factors) while working through lessons in the intervention. I provide a conceptual analysis guiding its design and discuss pre-test and pre-interview results, post-test and post-interview results, and observations from student behaviors while interacting with lessons. I demonstrate that the targeted meanings can be productive for students, show common unproductive meanings students possess as they enter Precalculus, highlight challenges and opportunities in teaching and learning in the online environment, and discuss needed adaptations to the intervention and future research opportunities informed by my results.

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Date Created
2018

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Investigating the advancement of middle school mathematics teachers' meanings for partitive division by fractional values of quantities

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Researchers have described two fundamental conceptualizations for division, known as partitive and quotitive division. Partitive division is the conceptualization of a÷b as the amount of something per copy such that b copies of this amount yield the amount a. Quotitive

Researchers have described two fundamental conceptualizations for division, known as partitive and quotitive division. Partitive division is the conceptualization of a÷b as the amount of something per copy such that b copies of this amount yield the amount a. Quotitive division is the conceptualization of a÷b as the number of copies of the amount b that yield the amount a. Researchers have identified many cognitive obstacles that have inhibited the development of robust meanings for division involving non-whole values, while other researchers have commented on the challenges related to such development. Regarding division with fractions, much research has been devoted to quotitive conceptualizations of division, or on symbolic manipulation of variables. Research and curricular activities have largely avoided the study and development of partitive conceptualizations involving fractions, as well as their connection to the invert-and-multiply algorithm. In this dissertation study, I investigated six middle school mathematics teachers’ meanings related to partitive conceptualizations of division over the positive rational numbers. I also investigated the impact of an intervention that I designed with the intent of advancing one of these teachers’ meanings. My findings suggested that the primary cognitive obstacles were difficulties with maintaining multiple levels of units, weak quantitative meanings for fractional multipliers, and an unawareness of (and confusion due to) the two quantitative conceptualizations of division. As a product of this study, I developed a framework for characterizing robust meanings for division, indicated directions for future research, and shared implications for curriculum and instruction.

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Date Created
2019

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Students’ Interpretations of Expressions in the Graphical Register and Its Relation to Their Interpretation of Points on Graphs when Evaluating Statements about Functions from Calculus

Description

Functions represented in the graphical register, as graphs in the Cartesian plane, are found throughout secondary and undergraduate mathematics courses. In the study of Calculus, specifically, graphs of functions are particularly prominent as a means of illustrating key concepts. Researchers

Functions represented in the graphical register, as graphs in the Cartesian plane, are found throughout secondary and undergraduate mathematics courses. In the study of Calculus, specifically, graphs of functions are particularly prominent as a means of illustrating key concepts. Researchers have identified that some of the ways that students may interpret graphs are unconventional, which may impact their understanding of related mathematical content. While research has primarily focused on how students interpret points on graphs and students’ images related to graphs as a whole, details of how students interpret and reason with variables and expressions on graphs of functions have remained unclear.

This dissertation reports a study characterizing undergraduate students’ interpretations of expressions in the graphical register with statements from Calculus, its association with their evaluations of these statements, its relation to the mathematical content of these statements, and its relation to their interpretations of points on graphs. To investigate students’ interpretations of expressions on graphs, I conducted 150-minute task-based clinical interviews with 13 undergraduate students who had completed Calculus I with a range of mathematical backgrounds. In the interviews, students were asked to evaluate propositional statements about functions related to key definitions and theorems of Calculus and were provided various graphs of functions to make their evaluations. The central findings from this study include the characteristics of four distinct interpretations of expressions on graphs that students used in this study. These interpretations of expressions on graphs I refer to as (1) nominal, (2) ordinal, (3) cardinal, and (4) magnitude. The findings from this study suggest that different contexts may evoke different graphical interpretations of expressions from the same student. Further, some interpretations were shown to be associated with students correctly evaluating some statements while others were associated with students incorrectly evaluating some statements.

I report the characteristics of these interpretations of expressions in the graphical register and its relation to their evaluations of the statements, the mathematical content of the statements, and their interpretation of points. I also discuss the implications of these findings for teaching and directions for future research in this area.

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Date Created
2019

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The Relationships Between Meanings Teachers Hold and Meanings Their Students Construct

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This dissertation reports three studies of the relationships between meanings teachers hold and meanings their students construct.

The first paper reports meanings held by U.S. and Korean secondary mathematics teachers for teaching function notation. This study focuses on what teachers

This dissertation reports three studies of the relationships between meanings teachers hold and meanings their students construct.

The first paper reports meanings held by U.S. and Korean secondary mathematics teachers for teaching function notation. This study focuses on what teachers in U.S. and Korean are revealing their thinking from their written responses to the MMTsm (Mathematical Meanings for Teaching secondary mathematics) items, with particular attention to how productive those meanings would be if conveyed to students in a classroom setting. This paper then discusses how the MMTsm serves as a diagnostic instrument by sharing a teacher’s story. The data indicates that many teachers name rules instead of constructing representations of functions through function notation.

The second paper reports the conveyance of meaning with eight Korean teachers who took the MMTsm. The data that I gathered was their responses to the MMTsm, what they said and did in the classroom lessons I observed, pre- and post-lesson interviews with them and their students. This paper focuses on the relationships between teachers’ mathematical meanings and their instructional actions as well as the relationships between teachers’ instructional actions and meanings that their students construct. The data suggests that holding productive meanings is a necessary condition to convey productive meanings to students, but not a sufficient condition.

The third paper investigates the conveyance of meaning with one U.S. teacher. This study explores how a teacher’s image of student thinking influenced her instructional decisions and meanings she conveyed to students. I observed 15 lessons taught by a calculus teacher and interviewed the teacher and her students at multiple points. The results suggest that teachers must think about how students might understand their instructional actions in order to better convey what they intend to their students.

The studies show a breakdown in the conveyance of meaning from teacher to student when the teacher has no image of how students might understand his or her statements and actions. This suggests that it is crucial to help teachers improve what they are capable of conveying to students and their images of what they hope to convey to future students.

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Date Created
2019

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Conceptualizing and Reasoning with Frames of Reference in Three Studies

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This dissertation reports three studies about what it means for teachers and students to reason with frames of reference: to conceptualize a reference frame, to coordinate multiple frames of reference, and to combine multiple frames of reference. Each paper expands

This dissertation reports three studies about what it means for teachers and students to reason with frames of reference: to conceptualize a reference frame, to coordinate multiple frames of reference, and to combine multiple frames of reference. Each paper expands on the previous one to illustrate and utilize the construct of frame of reference. The first paper is a theory paper that introduces the mental actions involved in reasoning with frames of reference. The concept of frames of reference, though commonly used in mathematics and physics, is not described cognitively in any literature. The paper offers a theoretical model of mental actions involved in conceptualizing a frame of reference. Additionally, it posits mental actions that are necessary for a student to reason with multiple frames of reference. It also extends the theory of quantitative reasoning with the construct of a ‘framed quantity’. The second paper investigates how two introductory calculus students who participated in teaching experiments reasoned about changes (variations). The data was analyzed to see to what extent each student conceptualized the variations within a conceptualized frame of reference as described in the first paper. The study found that the extent to which each student conceptualized, coordinated, and combined reference frames significantly affected his ability to reason productively about variations and to make sense of his own answers. The paper ends by analyzing 123 calculus students’ written responses to one of the tasks to build hypotheses about how calculus students reason about variations within frames of reference. The third paper reports how U.S. and Korean secondary mathematics teachers reason with frame of reference on open-response items. An assessment with five frame of reference tasks was given to 539 teachers in the US and Korea, and the responses were coded with rubrics intended to categorize responses by the extent to which they demonstrated conceptualized and coordinated frames of reference. The results show that the theory in the first study is useful in analyzing teachers’ reasoning with frames of reference, and that the items and rubrics function as useful tools in investigating teachers’ meanings for quantities within a frame of reference.

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Agent

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Date Created
2019