Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)

5-2010

Type of Culminating Activity

Thesis

Degree Title

Master of Science in Mathematics Education

Department

Mathematics

Major Advisor

Sharon B. Walen, Ph.D.

Abstract

For some students, the equals symbol is viewed as a directive to carry out a procedure, instead of a symbol expressing mathematical equivalence. The purpose of this study was to develop and to pilot a questionnaire to measure students’ understandings of relational equivalence as implied by their interpretations and use of the equals symbol. The results of this questionnaire were compared with student testing data with the goal of determining a correlation between understanding of symbolic equivalence and success in a typical algebra course. It was found that students who demonstrated an ability to define and articulate an appropriate meaning for the equals symbol scored significantly higher on an end-of-course test and on a state achievement test. However, this study also found that students who can define or articulate an appropriate meaning for the equals symbol may not necessarily be able to demonstrate a working knowledge or understanding of the symbol’s appropriate uses. Another significant conclusion found was that quality instructional practices contribute to students performing at a seemingly higher level, with respect to symbolic relational equivalence, than those shown in previous studies.

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