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A Comparative Study Of Directional Connections In Popular U.S. And Chinese High School Mathematics Textbook Problems

Li, Shuhui

Mathematical connection has received increasing attention and become one major goal in mathematics education. Two types of connections are distinguished: (a) between-concept connection, which cuts across two concepts; and (b) within-concept connection, which links two representations of one concept. For example, from the theoretical probability to experimental probability is a between-concept connection; generate a graph of a circle from its equation is a within-concept connection. Based on the directionality, unidirectional and bidirectional connections are discerned. Bidirectional connection portrays a pair of a typical and a reverse connection. The benefits of connections, especially bidirectional connections, are widely endorsed. However, researchers indicated that students and even teachers usually make unidirectional connections, and underlying reasons may be the curriculum and cognitive aspects. Previous studies have reported differences in learning opportunities for bidirectional connections in U.S. and Chinese textbook problems, but few have explored the high school level.

This study addressed this issue by comparing the directionality of mathematical connections and textbook-problem features in popular U.S. (the UCSMP series) and Chinese (the PEP-A series) high school mathematics textbook problems. The results indicated that the between-concept condition and unidirectional connections dominated textbook problems. Mathematical topic, contextual feature, and visual feature were most likely to contribute to different conditions of connections. Overall, problems dealing with quadratic relations from Chinese textbooks presented a vigorous network of more unique and total between-concept connections with balanced typical and reverse directions than the U.S. counterparts. Problems from U.S. textbooks showed a denser network of (a) within-concept connections in two topics and (b) between-concept connections in probability and combinatorics than the Chinese counterparts, but still exhibited an emphasis on specific concepts, representations, and directionality. The study reached a generalized statement that the new-to-prior knowledge direction was largely overlooked in textbook problems. The results have implications for adopting graph theory and Social Network Analysis to visualize and evaluate mathematical connections and informing mathematics teachers and textbook authors to pay attention to the new-to-prior knowledge connection.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Mathematics Education
Thesis Advisors
Karp, Alexander P.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 22, 2020