Figures and First Years: An Analysis of Calculus Students' Use of Figures in Technical Reports

Citation data:

Numeracy, Vol: 10, Issue: 2

Publication Year:
2017
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Repository URL:
http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/numeracy/vol10/iss2/art10
DOI:
10.5038/1936-4660.10.2.10
Author(s):
Antonacci, Nathan J; Rogers, Michael; Pfaff, Thomas J; Hamilton, Jason G
Publisher(s):
University of South Florida Libraries
Tags:
calculus; quantitative literacy; figures and graphs; technical report writing; Other Mathematics; Science and Mathematics Education
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article description
This three-year study focused on first-year Calculus I students and their abilities to incorporate figures in technical reports. In each year, these calculus students wrote a technical report as part of the Polar Bear Module, an educational unit developed for use in partner courses in biology, computer science, mathematics, and physics as part of the Multidisciplinary Sustainability Education (MSE) project at Ithaca College. In the first year of the project, students received basic technical report guidelines. In year two, the report guidelines changed to include explicit language on how to incorporate figures. In year three, a grading rubric was added to the materials provided to one of the two classes. In all three years, the students performed below expectations in their use of graphs in their reports. Reviews of the figures in the 78 technical reports written by the 106 students showed repeated deficiencies in the figures and how the students used them in the discussion sections and in evidence-based arguments. In year three the student’s quantitative literacy (QL) skills were assessed using an extract from a QL assessment instrument published in Numeracy. The results indicated that the students could both read and interpret figures, suggesting that issues with QL were not the main contributor to student difficulty with written discussion about graphs. The study underscores the need that explicit instructional attention be given to developing student knowhow in the use of figures in technical reports.