What are possible Sources of Common and Persistent Student Errors in Algebra and Calculus?
Keywords:Algebra, Calculus, Common Errors, Mathematical Meaning, Symbols
Research shows that college students make numerous algebra and other prerequisite content-related errors in Calculus courses. Most of these errors are common, persistent, and often observed in simple mathematical tasks. This qualitative study is an attempt to identify the potential sources of such errors. Based on our observations of student errors, we wrote a Precalculus and a Calculus test and administered them in twelve sections of four different undergraduate mathematics courses for which either Precalculus, Calculus I or both were a prerequisite. The tests were announced on the first day of the class and administered the following week. All the questions on the test were True or False questions. Based on our experience as college mathematics instructors, we assumed that many students would perceive the True answers as False and the False as True. Therefore, if students’ selected a given answer, mathematical statement, process or solution as True, they were asked to justify why that was not False and vice-versa. They were instructed to provide logical explanations and avoid plugging in numbers to check for correctness. Analysis of data using grounded theory approach resulted in the following three possible external sources of common and persistent student errors: a) Difficulty with symbols and/or lack of attendance to the meaning of those symbols, b) Instructional practices, and c) Lack of knowledge. We will provide examples to illustrate how such errors could have originated from these sources.
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