The role of the graphic calculator in mediating graphing activity

Hennessy, Sara; Fung, Pat and Scanlon, Eileen (2001). The role of the graphic calculator in mediating graphing activity. International Journal of Mathematics Education for Science and Technology, 32(2) pp. 267–290.



The PIGMI (Portable Information Technologies for supporting Graphical Mathematics Investigations) Project investigated the role of portable technologies in facilitating development of students' graphing skills and concepts. This paper examines the impact of a recent shift towards calculating and computing tools as increasingly accessible, everyday technologies on the nature of learning in a traditionally difficult curriculum area. The paper focuses on the use of graphic calculators by undergraduates taking an innovative new mathematics course at the Open University. A questionnaire survey of both students and tutors was employed to investigate perceptions of the graphic calculator and the features which facilitate graphing and linking between representations. Key features included visualization of functions, immediate feedback and rapid graph plotting. A follow-up observational case study of a pair of students illustrated how the calculator can shape mathematical activity, serving a catalytic, facilitating and checking role. The features of technology-based activities which can structure and support collaborative problem solving were also examined. In sum, the graphic calculator technology acted as a critical mediator in both the students' collaboration and in their problem solving. The pedagogic implications of using portables are considered, including the tension between using and over-using portables to support mathematical activity.

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