Students' conceptions about the use of graphing calculators on tests

Rocha, H. Students' conceptions about the use of graphing calculators on tests. Proceedings of 8th Annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation. Seville, Spain: ICERI, 2015.



H. Rocha

Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia, Universidade NOVA de Lisboa (PORTUGAL)

The assessment is considered a key element of the teaching and learning process and is often divided into two types: formative and summative. The distinction between these two types of assessment is usually made based on the moments in which it occurs and the objectives it has. Nevertheless, there are some continuities between these two types of assessment, and this leads some authors to question whether these two types of assessment should be seen as fully disjoint. Despite this, the prevailing understanding of summative assessment is that it takes place at the end of the learning process and that it is intended to classify the students.

The technology and, in particular, the graphing calculator is recognized for the impact it may have on the students’ approaches to solve mathematical questions. When technology is available, several studies point to an higher relevance of the understanding of the mathematical concepts, to an increase in graphical approaches to mathematical questions and to an increment in the use of exploratory approaches to solve the problems that are posed. Of course, all these changes will have its impact also on summative assessment moments, and specifically in testing.

Students’ conceptions about the use of technology have a deep impact on how they actually use the technology. The relevance usually attributed to tests, makes it important to understand what determines the performance of students in these moments.

This study focuses on the use of the graphing calculator at assessment moments such as tests, intending to understand the students’ conceptions related to that use. Namely it intends to analyze the impact of the students’ conceptions about Mathematics, about the use of technology to learn, and about teachers’ perspectives.

The study adopts a qualitative and interpretative methodological approach, undertaking two students’ case studies. Data were collected during one school year by semi-structured interviews, students’ observation at testing moments, and documental data gathering. All interviews were audio recorded and transcribed and the students’ observation was video recorded. Data analysis was conducted in an interpretative way.

The conclusions reached suggest that students welcome the possibility of using the graphing calculator during testing. The way this technology allows them to avoid errors, both in the calculations and in the formulas to be used, is the main reason advanced by the students. The speed of resolution, which they consider very important during testing, is another of the valued aspects. The idea of Mathematics as something that you need to understand and where knowing the right formula is not enough to achieve the right answer is pointed as the main justification for the use of this technology in tests. Nevertheless, the idea that technology should not be used seems to be always present. The impact of family ideas and, in particular, the idea that one can become dependent of the graphing calculator, seems to have some influence over the students conceptions about the use of this technology. However, the one that is undoubtedly the decisive reason for this conception is what they consider to be the opinion of a teacher. For the students, a teacher cannot agree with the use of graphing calculators in tests. And the reason given for this is related to the idea that a teacher will not be able to actually understand the students’ mathematical knowledge if he uses the graphing calculator.

Keywords: summative assessment, students’ conceptions, technology, mathematics.

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