Title: Slower Algebra Students Meet Faster Tools: Solving Algebra Word Problems With Graphing Software

Author(s): Michal Yerushalmy

Journal Name: Journal for Research in Mathematics Education

Published: 2006

In this journal article, they conducted a study on middle school students to see how each pair used the graphing tool to solve word problems.  In this study, they conducted three groups, three pairs of successful students (U25), three pairs of average students and three pairs of low successful students (L25). Each group was given the same word problems to complete. Both groups had access to the computer and graphing tool.  The graphing tool is a software with capabilities similar to a basic graphic calculator that presents two-dimensional graphs and numerical values for any single variable expression. As each pair completed the word problem, there were interviews being done as they worked. The interviewer was not allowed to give the answers only to assess their thinking process. The main goal of the interviews was to observe the processes by which the L25 constructed mathematical meaning while solving traditional word problems with the function graphing software. From this study, they noticed how each pair had a different approach when it came to using the graphing tool. Some students wanted to use the tool to get an answer, others use the tool to check if their answer was correct and others students just wanted a visual representation of the function. Overall, the tool was part of the students’ reasoning and argumentation and was used to reflect on conjectures.

Question: How can we guide students to use graphing tools properly to solve algebra problems?

Graphing tools were constantly used in classrooms, and students were encouraged to use them. The techniques involved in using the graphing tool were practiced routinely in the eighth and ninth grades, including values, reading linked representations of function, and reading the values at intersection of two function graphs. Graphing tools are very helpful when students are dealing with functions. But if a student does not use them properly or over rely on these graphing tools, it may cause them just use the graphing tools to get the answers of the problems instead of trying to reason and understand the concept behind the problem. So, in order to help student to use the graphing tools properly, we need to set rules that they can only use them when they complete difficult operations and to confirm conjectures. Also make the assessment “uncheatable,” students need to be able to understand the concept, validate it and apply it. That is goal of solving a problem.

Discussion questions:

1. Should middle school students be allowed to use graphing tools in class?
2. What kind of graphing tool are helpful for middle school students?
3. What are the benefits for students to use graphing tool in the class?
4. How do you know if your students are over relying on graphing tools?
5. How does a graphing tool help a teacher teach her/his students understand algebra?
6. Should you allow student use graphing tool during the test?