The Journal of Mathematical Behavior published an article by BYU Mathematics Education Assistant Professor Steven Jones, PhD, in March 2017.
“An Exploratory Study on Student Understandings of Derivatives in Real-World, Non-Kinematics Contexts” examines how students take the concepts they learn in their math classes, and apply them to coursework in areas of study outside of pure mathematics. In particular, Jones examined how students worked with, interpreted, and reasoned about calculus derivatives inside various physics and engineering contexts. He examined the additional complexities that exist in understanding the derivative in these kinds of contexts, such as knowing how to work with “non-time” independent variables. While students were typically capable of calculating these derivatives, they did not always know how to make sense of what they meant.
“The vast majority of students who take lower-level mathematics courses, such as calculus, are intending on majoring in a science or engineering field,” says Jones. “I hope this research might continue to raise awareness of differences in how students use mathematics concepts within pure mathematics, versus how they use them within science and engineering.”
Jones anticipates this research could help professors–especially calculus instructors–better understand the end use of the content they are teaching. This understanding will then allow instructors to make their coursework more appropriate for students.
Jones also hopes to raise awareness about the different uses of mathematics within the mathematics education department at BYU. “I hope we can pass this awareness on to our pre-service teachers,” Jones says. “If we succeed, they will be more attentive in their own teaching practice to how mathematics can be used in other fields.”
According to Mathematics Education Department Chair Blake Peterson, PhD, “This research is valuable to any professor teaching mathematics at an advanced high school or university level.” Peterson continues, “If we want future generations to succeed, we need to understand how to teach complex mathematical concepts in ways they can use and apply.”
Research for the study was collected through personal interviews with students, and by examining the results of a survey of students in collegiate-level mathematics courses.
Jones plans to continue his research agenda of examining students’ usage of mathematical concepts in a variety of science or engineering fields of study in the future.
The article can be accessed online through this link.