Comparison of university students’ understanding of graphs in different contexts

Planinić, Maja and Ivanjek, Lana and Sušac, Ana and Milin-Šipuš, Željka (2013) Comparison of university students’ understanding of graphs in different contexts. Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research, 9 (2). pp. 20103-9. ISSN 1554-9178

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Abstract

This study investigates university students’ understanding of graphs in three different domains: mathematics, physics (kinematics), and contexts other than physics. Eight sets of parallel mathematics, physics, and other context questions about graphs were developed. A test consisting of these eight sets of questions (24 questions in all) was administered to 385 first year students at University of Zagreb who were either prospective physics or mathematics teachers or prospective physicists or mathematicians. Rasch analysis of data was conducted and linear measures for item difficulties were obtained. Average difficulties of items in three domains (mathematics, physics, and other contexts) and over two concepts (graph slope, area under the graph) were computed and compared. Analysis suggests that the variation of average difficulty among the three domains is much smaller for the concept of graph slope than for the concept of area under the graph. Most of the slope items are very close in difficulty, suggesting that students who have developed sufficient understanding of graph slope in mathematics are generally able to transfer it almost equally successfully to other contexts. A large difference was found between the difficulty of the concept of area under the graph in physics and other contexts on one side and mathematics on the other side. Comparison of average difficulty of the three domains suggests that mathematics without context is the easiest domain for students. Adding either physics or other context to mathematical items generally seems to increase item difficulty. No significant difference was found between the average item difficulty in physics and contexts other than physics, suggesting that physics (kinematics) remains a difficult context for most students despite the received instruction on kinematics in high school.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: physics education, mathematics education, graphs, kinematics
Date: July 2013
Subjects: NATURAL SCIENCES > Physics
Additional Information: Copyright (2013) by the American Physical Society.
Divisions: Faculty of Science > Department of Physics
Project code: 119-0091361-1027
Publisher: American Physical Society
Depositing User: Gordana Stubičan Ladešić
Date Deposited: 03 Jun 2014 19:31
Last Modified: 15 Feb 2016 10:29
URI: http://digre.pmf.unizg.hr/id/eprint/2193

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