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Thesis Defense – Daniel Bragdon

October 31st, 2013

Maine Center for Research in STEM Education



MST Candidate
Daniel Bragdon
Thesis Advisor: Dr. Natasha Speer

Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of
Master of Science in Teaching

May 2014

University Students’ Graph Interpretation and Comprehension Abilities

There is an increase in demand for individuals to be successful with graph interpretation. Society is currently lacking individuals who have majored in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), where most courses require linear graph comprehension as a prerequisite skill. The Common Core for State Standards Initiative for Mathematics, Next Generation Science Standards, and the Maine Revised Learning Results all characterize these as skills to be mastered before a student enters high school. Reading information from graphs and making inferences based on graphically-presented information is challenging for students and researchers have documented a variety of difficulties students have with graph comprehension. These difficulties include, among others, having knowledge of the graph context incorrectly influencing graph comprehension, viewing the graph as an iconic representation of the event and confusing slope and height. Being able to extrapolate and make predictions based on graphs is especially challenging for students. This research on graph comprehension has been primarily focused on students in elementary, middle, and high school and findings do not provide definitive answers as to why these difficulties are prevalent or why certain kinds of questions are so difficult. Despite the important role graph comprehension plays in undergraduate students’ learning of STEM content, little is known about the performance and thinking of this population of students. For the present study, college students in introductory mathematics and physics classes were given linear graph comprehension tasks. Data include both written responses and interviews designed to investigate student thinking were conducted with a subset of students. Findings indicate that students answered extrapolation questions incorrectly more often than other questions. On a written in class survey only 67.6% of students correctly answered an extrapolation question correctly, compared to a success rate of 86.7% on interpolation questions. Interview data analysis generated similar results with only 50% of students consistently answering extrapolation questions correctly. Student responses to interpolation questions can be used as a predictor of a student’s success on extrapolation questions. Implications for instruction are discussed along with directions for further research.



Monday, November 18, 2013
3:00 pm
Arthur St. John Hill Auditorium (165 Barrows Hall, ESRB)

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