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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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Examining the development of students' covariational reasoning in the context of graphing

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Researchers have documented the importance of seeing a graph as an emergent trace of how two quantities’ values vary simultaneously in order to reason about the graph in terms of quantitative relationships. If a student does not see a graph

Researchers have documented the importance of seeing a graph as an emergent trace of how two quantities’ values vary simultaneously in order to reason about the graph in terms of quantitative relationships. If a student does not see a graph as a representation of how quantities change together then the student is limited to reasoning about perceptual features of the shape of the graph.

This dissertation reports results of an investigation into the ways of thinking that support and inhibit students from constructing and reasoning about graphs in terms of covarying quantities. I collected data by engaging three university precalculus students in asynchronous teaching experiments. I designed the instructional sequence to support students in making three constructions: first imagine representing quantities’ magnitudes along the axes, then simultaneously represent these magnitudes with a correspondence point in the plane, and finally anticipate tracking the correspondence point to track how the two quantities’ attributes change simultaneously.

Findings from this investigation provide insights into how students come to engage in covariational reasoning and re-present their imagery in their graphing actions. The data presented here suggests that it is nontrivial for students to coordinate their images of two varying quantities. This is significant because without a way to coordinate two quantities’ variation the student is limited to engaging in static shape thinking.

I describe three types of imagery: a correspondence point, Tinker Bell and her pixie dust, and an actor taking baby steps, that supported students in developing ways to coordinate quantities’ variation. I discuss the figurative aspects of the students’ coordination in order to account for the difficulties students had (1) constructing a multiplicative object that persisted under variation, (2) reconstructing their acts of covariation in other graphing tasks, and (3) generalizing these acts of covariation to reason about formulas in terms of covarying quantities.

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2017