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ERIC Number: EJ1033057
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2014
Pages: 24
Abstractor: As Provided
ISBN: N/A
ISSN: ISSN-0020-739X
The Development and Nature of Problem-Solving among First-Semester Calculus Students
Dawkins, Paul Christian; Epperson, James A. Mendoza
International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, v45 n6 p839-862 2014
This study investigates interactions between calculus learning and problem-solving in the context of two first-semester undergraduate calculus courses in the USA. We assessed students' problem-solving abilities in a common US calculus course design that included traditional lecture and assessment with problem-solving-oriented labs. We investigate this blended instruction as a local representative of the US calculus reform movements that helped foster it. These reform movements tended to emphasize problem-solving as well as multiple mathematical registers and quantitative modelling. Our statistical analysis reveals the influence of the blended traditional/reform calculus instruction on students' ability to solve calculus-related, non-routine problems through repeated measures over the semester. The calculus instruction in this study significantly improved students' performance on non-routine problems, though performance improved more regarding strategies and accuracy than it did for drawing conclusions and providing justifications. We identified problem-solving behaviours that characterized top performance or attrition in the course. Top-performing students displayed greater algebraic proficiency, calculus skills, and more general heuristics than their peers, but overused algebraic techniques even when they proved cumbersome or inappropriate. Students who subsequently withdrew from calculus often lacked algebraic fluency and understanding of the graphical register. The majority of participants, when given a choice, relied upon less sophisticated trial-and-error approaches in the numerical register and rarely used the graphical register, contrary to the goals of US calculus reform. We provide explanations for these patterns in students' problem-solving performance in view of both their preparation for university calculus and the courses' assessment structure, which preferentially rewarded algebraic reasoning. While instruction improved students' problem-solving performance, we observe that current instruction requires ongoing refinement to help students develop multi-register fluency and the ability to model quantitatively, as is called for in current US standards for mathematical instruction.
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Assessments and Surveys: SAT (College Admission Test)