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ERIC Number: EJ950571
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2011
Pages: 26
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 50
ISSN: ISSN-0950-0693
Beyond Epistemological Deficits: Dynamic Explanations of Engineering Students' Difficulties with Mathematical Sense-Making
Gupta, Ayush; Elby, Andrew
International Journal of Science Education, v33 n18 p2463-2488 2011
Researchers have argued against deficit-based explanations of students' difficulties with mathematical sense-making, pointing instead to factors such as epistemology. Students' beliefs about knowledge and learning can hinder the activation and integration of productive knowledge they have. Such explanations, however, risk falling into a "deficit trap"--substituting a concepts/skills deficit with an epistemological one. Our interview-based case study of a freshman engineering major, "Jim," explains his difficulty solving a physics problem (on hydrostatic pressure) in terms of his epistemology, but avoids a deficit trap by modeling the dynamics of his epistemological stabilities and shifts in terms of fine-grained cognitive elements that include the seeds of epistemological expertise. Specifically, during a problem-solving episode in the interview, Jim reaches and sticks with an incorrect answer that violates common sense. We show that Jim has all the mathematical skills and physics knowledge he would need to resolve the contradiction. We argue that his difficulty doing so stems in part from his epistemological views that (i) physics equations are much more trustworthy than everyday reasoning, and (ii) physics equations do not express meaning that tractably connects to common sense. For these reasons, he does not view reconciling between common sense and formalism as either necessary or plausible to accomplish. But Jim's in-the-moment shift to a more sophisticated epistemological stance highlights the seeds of epistemological expertise that were present all along: he does see common sense as connected to formalism (though not always tractably so), and in some circumstances, this connection is both salient and valued. (Contains 1 figure, 1 table, and 3 notes.)
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Maryland