ERIC Number: EJ935788
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2011-Sep
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 28
Subspace in Linear Algebra: Investigating Students' Concept Images and Interactions with the Formal Definition
Wawro, Megan; Sweeney, George F.; Rabin, Jeffrey M.
Educational Studies in Mathematics, v78 n1 p1-19 Sep 2011
This paper reports on a study investigating students' ways of conceptualizing key ideas in linear algebra, with the particular results presented here focusing on student interactions with the notion of subspace. In interviews conducted with eight undergraduates, we found students' initial descriptions of subspace often varied substantially from the language of the concept's formal definition, which is very algebraic in nature. This is consistent with literature in other mathematical content domains that indicates that a learner's primary understanding of a concept is not necessarily informed by that concept's formal definition. We used the analytical tools of concept image and concept definition of Tall and Vinner ("Educational Studies in Mathematics," 12(2):151-169, 1981) in order to highlight this distinction in student responses. Through grounded analysis, we identified recurring concept imagery that students provided for subspace, namely, geometric object, part of whole, and algebraic object. We also present results regarding the coordination between students' concept image and how they interpret the formal definition, situations in which students recognized a need for the formal definition, and qualities of subspace that students noted were consequences of the formal definition. Furthermore, we found that all students interviewed expressed, to some extent, the technically inaccurate "nested subspace" conception that R[superscript k] is a subspace of R[superscript n] for k less than n. We conclude with a discussion of this and how it may be leveraged to inform teaching in a productive, student-centered manner.
Descriptors: Algebra, Undergraduate Students, Interviews, Concept Formation, Mathematical Concepts, Definitions
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Authoring Institution: N/A