**ERIC Number:**EJ1160491

**Record Type:**Journal

**Publication Date:**2017

**Pages:**22

**Abstractor:**As Provided

**ISBN:**N/A

**ISSN:**EISSN-2469-9896

**EISSN:**N/A

How Students Process Equations in Solving Quantitative Synthesis Problems? Role of Mathematical Complexity in Students' Mathematical Performance

Ibrahim, Bashirah; Ding, Lin; Heckler, Andrew F.; White, Daniel R.; Badeau, Ryan

Physical Review Physics Education Research, v13 n2 p020120-1-020120-22 Jul-Dec 2017

We examine students' mathematical performance on quantitative "synthesis problems" with varying mathematical complexity. Synthesis problems are tasks comprising multiple concepts typically taught in different chapters. Mathematical performance refers to the formulation, combination, and simplification of equations. Generally speaking, formulation and combination of equations require conceptual reasoning; simplification of equations requires manipulation of equations as computational tools. Mathematical complexity is operationally defined by the number and the type of equations to be manipulated concurrently due to the number of unknowns in each equation. We use two types of synthesis problems, namely, sequential and simultaneous tasks. Sequential synthesis tasks require a chronological application of pertinent concepts, and simultaneous synthesis tasks require a concurrent application of the pertinent concepts. A total of 179 physics major students from a second year mechanics course participated in the study. Data were collected from written tasks and individual interviews. Results show that mathematical complexity negatively influences the students' mathematical performance on both types of synthesis problems. However, for the sequential synthesis tasks, it interferes only with the students' simplification of equations. For the simultaneous synthesis tasks, mathematical complexity additionally impedes the students' formulation and combination of equations. Several reasons may explain this difference, including the students' different approaches to the two types of synthesis problems, cognitive load, and the variation of mathematical complexity within each synthesis type.

Descriptors: Equations (Mathematics), Problem Solving, Mathematics Instruction, Task Analysis, Mechanics (Physics), Mathematics Achievement, Mathematical Concepts, Interviews, Cognitive Ability, Physics, Majors (Students), Role, Student Attitudes, Undergraduate Students

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**Publication Type:**Journal Articles; Reports - Research; Tests/Questionnaires

**Education Level:**Higher Education

**Audience:**N/A

**Language:**English

**Sponsor:**National Science Foundation (NSF)

**Authoring Institution:**N/A

**Grant or Contract Numbers:**DRL1252399