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REFLECTIONSONMEASUREMENTAND GEOMETRY

AREAMEASUREMENTINYEAR7

MichaelCavanagh,MacquarieUniversity

Thispaperreportsonasmallstudywhichexaminedtheunderstandingofbasicareameasurementconceptsheld by a group of Year 7 students.Recent research findings on area measurement are reviewed and the research studyisdescribed.Implicationsforteachingarethendiscussed.

Researchonareameasurement

Thestudyofareameasurementisanimportantpartofthe middleschool curriculum for two important reasons: firstly, because of the wide variety of everyday applications of area concepts in activities such as painting, gardening, tiling and indeed any task which involves covering a twodimensional surface and secondly, because area concepts are often used in textbooks and by teachers to introduce many other mathematical ideas. For instance, rectangular areas are used to represent multiplicative operations involving whole numbers and fractions, and to demonstrate the Commutative Law of multiplication (since rotating a rectangle throughninety degrees does not alter its area). Rectangles can also help students understand binomial 2 productssuchastheexpansionof (a + b ) byprovidinga visual illustration of the algebraic result. A good understanding of area measurement is also beneficial whenlearningaboutintegralcalculus. Thebasisofareameasurementliesinunderstandinghow aspecifiedunitcanbeiterateduntilitcompletelycovers aflatsurface,withoutleavinggapsoroverlaps.Inother words, the region is partitioned into equalsized units whichtessellatetheplane.Thereisstrongevidencefrom previous research that the underlying structure of the rowcolumn arrangement whichresults from the process of unit iteration using square grids is by no means obvious: students need considerable practice in constructing grids by hand and physically covering a region if they are to develop a sound conceptual understanding of area measurement (Outhred & Mitchelmore,2000). Studentsneed considerable practice in constructing their owngrids,squarebysquare,untiltheybegintoattendto the pattern and structure of the arrays which they have formed.Undertakingsuchtasksandallowingtimeforthe basic ideas to become apparentis criticalif studentsare to recognize that eachrow (or column) mustnecessarily contain the same number of units and then use the row (orcolumn)asacompositeunitwhichcanberepeatedto savedrawingeachgridsquareindividually.Itisonly by activelyengaginginsuchactivitiesthatthemultiplicative nature of the array can be made manifest to students (Battista,2003).

However, research also shows that what often tends to happenintheteachingofareaconceptsisquitedifferent. Many textbooks present regions which are already partitioned so that students need only count the squares onebyonetodiscovertheareaofashape,ataskwhich can mask the underlying structure of the array because students attention is not explicitly drawn to it. In addition,thetendencyofmanyteachersandtextbooksto move too quickly to the multiplication operations associated with calculating areas, especially through the use of formulae for the areas of basic shapes, deprives students of the opportunity to study the pattern and structureofthearray(Kordaki&Portari,2002). If teachers do not make time to investigate the multiplicative structures which underpin the area formulae, students can be left with a very superficial understandingofareaandmisconceptionsaremorelikely to occur. Research has consistently demonstrated that students across all ages can experience difficulties when attemptingtofindareasofbasictwodimensionalshapes. For example, Kidman (1999) found that students often confuse area and perimeter, and tend to use additive approaches to calculate areas when multiplication strategies would be more advantageous Dickson (1989) notedthatstudentshaveastrongtendencytoemploythe rectangular area formula (Area = length width) in all contexts,regardless of the shapeand Baturo and Nason (1996) discovered that such misconceptions are often deeplyheldandcanpersistintoadulthood.

Thepresentstudy

AninvestigationoftheareaunderstandingsoftwoYear7 classesindifferentschoolswasundertaken.Bothschools werecoeducational,governmenthighschoolsinmiddle incomesuburbsofmetropolitanSydney.Inoneschool,a mixedabilityclassof21studentstookpartinthestudy, while in the other school the lowest grouping of six streamed classes containing22 students participated. All 43 students completed a twentyminute written test containingfivequestionsbasedonareasofrectanglesand triangles.The test was administered by the class teacher immediately prior to commencing a twoweek unit on area measurement, and again at the conclusion of the unit. The teaching unit in both schools comprised 8 lessonsofapproximately50minuteseachandfocusedon methods for calculating areas of squares, rectangles and triangles. None of the lessons were observed as part of

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REFLECTIONSONMEASUREMENTANDGEOMETRY

the study but the teachers described their approach as a standard one which relied mainly on the textbook for examplesandexercises. In addition to the written test, 3 boys and 3 girls from eachclasswerechosenbytheteachertoreflecttherange of abilities. These 12 students were then interviewed individually for approximately 15 minutes each, while theycompletedtwoareatasks.Theinterviewsweresemi structured in that students responses were used by the interviewerasthebasisforsubsequentquestions,andall of the interviews were videotaped for later analysis. In both the written tests and the interviews, emphasis was placedonencouragingstudentstoexplaintheirresponses so that their reasoning and misconceptions might be revealed. Forthewrittentest,studentscouldusea30cmrulerora transparent SNAP grid but calculators were not permitted. The first question required students to define thewordarea.Mostdidsointermssimilartothespace insidetheshape(pretest=53%posttest=72%)orby referringtolengthbywidth(19%12%).InQuestion2, students had to calculate the area of a simple rectangle, 5cm by 3 cm, which displayed tick marks at 1 cm intervals around its perimeter. Most students found the area correctly (72% 93%) either by multiplying the rectangles dimensions (53% 47%) or by constructing a grid and counting the squares (28% 49%). Question 3 showed a diagram of a 345 cm rightangled triangle which included tick marks at 1 cm intervals along the perpendicularsides,andstudentswererequiredtofindits area. Results for this question were lower than for the rectangle (44% 49%) because many students attempted to draw a grid and count squares (21% 40%), a task made more difficult due to the fractional parts which inevitably arose within the triangular shape. A small numberofstudentseitherforgottodividetheproductof base and height by 2 (12% 5%) or multiplied all three sidelengthstogether(12%0%). The focus of Question 4 was an Lshaped, rectangular figure. Students had to find its area by first finding the lengthsoftwounknownsidesbyusingthelengthsofthe other 4 sides which were supplied.There were few who could find the area correctly (14% 23%) and many attemptedtofindtheperimeterinstead(35%58%)ordid not attempt the task (19% 2%). In Question 5, students hadto(a)usetherulerorSNAPgridtoaccuratelydraw 2 any rectangle of area 24 cm and (b) draw any non rectangular shape of the same area. Most drew the rectanglecorrectly(58%79%),butfewcouldaccurately create a second shape (26% 30%). Here too, many studentsdrewashapewithperimeter24cm(19%14% for therectangle,and 21% 30% for thenonrectangular shape). Theinterviewstookplaceapproximatelytwoweeksafter the conclusion of the teaching unit and the second administration of the written test. For the first interview task,studentsweregivenacardboardrectangle10cmby 8cmandaskedtousetheirrulerorSNAPgridtofindits area. All students did so correctly, either by measuring

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the length and width (6 students) or by overlaying the grid to count squares along two adjacent edges (6 students), and then multiplying. When asked to explain why the multiplication operation gave the correct result, only1studentcouldrespondimmediately,while2more studentsdidsoafterprompting,andtheremaining9were unabletoprovideanysatisfactoryexplanation. Next, theruler/grid wasremoved andreplaced with two more cardboard shapes: a rightangled triangle of sides 10,12andapproximately15.5cm,andaparallelogramof base10cmandperpendicularheight8cm.Eachstudent was asked which,if any, of these shapes mighthave an area equal to that of the rectangle and how they could check to be sure. Eight students correctly noted thatthe triangle area was smaller than the rectangle and superimposed the two shapes to demonstrate their conjecture3otherstudentsclaimedthetriangleareawas larger, justifying their response by noting that its sides were longer than those of the rectangle and the remainingstudentsaidthatitwasnotpossibletocompare thetwoareasbecausetheyweredifferentshapes.Forthe parallelogram, all students began bymeasuring its sides or aligning it directly to the rectangle. All 12 students thenconcludedthattheparallelogrammusthaveagreater areatheyhadallmistakenlycomparedtheslantheightof the parallelogram to the perpendicular height of the rectangle. When asked how they could demonstrate this result,theyeventuallyalldecidedtocutoffarightangled trianglefromoneendoftheparallelogramandrecombine to form a rectangle which they could superimpose onto the original rectangle. Having done so, only 4 students could eventually explain the apparent contradiction, whiletheother8remainedcompletelymystified.

Discussionofresults

Together,theresultsofthewrittentestsandtheinterview tasks suggest that the students in the present studyheld three closelyrelated misconceptions about the areas of rectangles, triangles and parallelograms. Firstly, as previouslyreportedintheliterature,studentsinthisstudy confused area and perimeter. The evidence for the confusion comes from their inappropriately labelling 2 sidesusingcm orareasasplaincmonthetest,intheir talkingaboutsidesandareasusingconfusedlanguagein the interviews, and in their calculating the perimeter of some shapes when they were required to find the areas. ThelattermaywellbeanexampleofwhatTierney,Boyd andDavis(1990)refertoasstudentsuseof signposts,or familiarideaswhichtheyreverttowhenconfrontedbya taskforwhichtheyseenoimmediatesolutionstrategy.In this case, the signpost (perimeter) was more apparent to some students, even though it was unrelated to the task (findinganarea). The second commonlyheld misconceptionrelates to the studentstendencytorefertotheslantheightofashape whentheperpendicularheightshouldbeproperlyusedto calculateitsarea.SomestudentsdidsoinQuestion3of the written test when attempting to find the area of the rightangled triangle, but the slant height misconception

REFLECTIONS33(1)February2008

AREAMEASUREMENTINYEAR7

wasmostnoticeableduringtheinterviewswhenstudents weretryingtocalculatetheareaoftheparallelogram.In this case, all of the students incorrectly measured the figuresslantheightandmultiplieditbythelengthofthe base, resulting in an increased value for the area. The students simply did not see the need to ensure that the perpendicularheightwasusedandthefactthatsofewof themcouldsubsequentlyexplainhowtheparallelograms area was, in fact, precisely the same as that of the rectangleisfurtherevidenceoftheirmisconception. Finally,studentsexhibitedalimitedunderstandingofthe relationshipbetweentheareasofrectanglesandtriangles. Thatis,theydidnotmakeuseofthefactthattheareaof a triangle is half that of the rectangle which shares a common base and perpendicular height. This was apparent in Question 3 of the written test where many studentschosetoconstructagridandattempttocountthe squaresa relatively difficult task given the fractional gridsquareswhichinevitablyariseusingsuchamethod. However, if they had used the rectangletriangle relationship, the task of calculating the area of the triangle could have been made considerably easier. Anotherindicationofthestudentsinabilitytomakeuse of the rectangletriangle relationship was the fact that somestudentsmultipliedallthreelengthstofindthearea ofthetrianglesbothonthetestandintheinterviewtask.

indicate that it is dangerous for teachers to assume that students who correctly apply a formula to calculate the area of a rectangle have a sound understanding of how andwhytheformulaworksandinwhich contextsitcan beappropriatelyused. Once the structure of the grid is noted and the length times width result is derived, students can apply the formula to calculate areas of simple rectangles and composite rectangular shapes. Next, the formula for the area of a parallelogram can be derived by recombining the shape to form a rectangle. This calls for a practical activityinwhichstudentstakeaparallelogramandcutit up to create a rectangle, but it is crucial that the distinctionbetweenslantheightandperpendicularheight isemphasizedinsuchanactivity.Notingthattheoriginal parallelogram and the newly formed rectangle share a common base and perpendicular height leads to the developmentoftheparallelogramareaformula. Parallelogramscanthenbeusedtodemonstratetheresult fortheareaofatrianglesincedividingaparallelogramin twoalongitsdiagonalformstwotriangles,eachhalfthe areaoftheoriginalshape.Indoingso,teacherswillneed toemphasizetheimportanceofperpendicularheight. Next,studentscouldinvestigatetheareasofrightangled triangles by drawing them within rectangles and noting the relationship between the two shapes. This activity shouldbecarriedoutusingtrianglesdrawninavarietyof orientations so that the importance of perpendicular height can be reinforced. The need for perpendicular heightcanalso behighlightedbyprovidingtrianglesfor whichallthreesidelengthsaregivenandnotinghowthe adjacentperpendicularsidescorrectlyrelatethefigureto the circumscribed rectangle. After considering right angledtriangles,studentscouldthinkaboutotherkindsof triangles by continuing the process of constructing rectangles around them, calculating the area of the rectangle, and dividing that result in half. Work of this naturewillthereforeleadtotheformulafortheareaofa triangle. Taking time to develop the area formulae more slowly allowsstudentsthechancetodevelopasoundconceptual understanding as a solid basis for further work in area measurement. It also affords many opportunities to discusslikelymisconceptionsastheyinevitablyarise,so that misunderstandings can be revealed and corrected beforetheybecometoofirmlyestablished.

Implicationsforteaching

Theresultsofthepresentstudyconfirmthepointsnoted previously in the literature review on students understanding of area measurement and together they providesomeusefulsuggestionsfortheteachingofbasic area concepts. The most important consideration in designing instruction is to provide appropriate activities andallowsufficienttimeforstudentstodevelopasound conceptual understanding of array structures before proceeding to use numerical calculations and area formulae. Unless this is done, students are unlikely to recognize and use fundamental area measurement principles,andmisconceptions willinevitablyarise. Althoughbestdoneintheprimarygradeswhenchildren are first exposed to area measurement, Year 7 students can also benefit from activities associated with constructing grids by hand and noting the rowcolumn structureinirregularshapesandsimplerectanglesasthe basis for developing the area formulae. It is of crucial importance that students have opportunities to construct grids for themselves rather than simply observing ones thathavebeenalreadyprepared.Thefactthatoneofthe classes which participated in the present study had grid booksinalltheirlessons,usingthemtodrawshapesand count squares, is likely to be a significant factor in the students persistence in applying additive counting methods and their failure to develop more efficient multiplicative strategies. The notion of a row/column composite unit as the basis for multiplying length by width which underpins the area formulae is unlikely to become apparent to students who rely mainly on pre constructedgrids.Theresultsofthepresentstudyclearly

References

Battista,M.T.(2003).UnderstandingStudentsThinking About Area and Volume Measurement. In D. H. Clements & G. Bright (Eds), Learning andTeaching Measurement,NCTM2003Yearbook(pp.122142). National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Reston,VA. Baturo,A.,&Nason,R.(1996).Studentteacherssubject matter knowledge within the domain of area measurement. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 31,235268.

REFLECTIONS33(1)February2008

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Dickson,L.(1989).TheAreaofaRectangle.InK.Hart, D. Johnson, M. Brown, L. Dickson, & R. Clarkson (Eds),ChildrensMathematicalFrameworks813:A Study of Classroom Teaching. NFERNelson, London. Kidman, G. C. (1999). Grade 4, 6 and 8 Students StrategiesinAreaMeasurement.InJ.M.Truran&K. M.Truran(Eds),MakingtheDifference(Proceedings of the 22nd Annual Conference of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia, pp. 298 305).MERGA,Adelaide. Kordaki, M., & Potari, D. (2002). The effect of area measurementtoolsonstudentstrategies:Theroleofa

computer microworld. International Journal of ComputersforMathematicalLearning,7,65100. Outhred, L. N., & Mitchelmore, M. C. (2000). Young childrens intuitive understanding of rectangular area measurement. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 31(2),144167. Tierney, C., Boyd, C., & Davis, G. (1990). Prospective Primary Teachers Conceptions of Area. In G. Booker, P. Cobb, & T. N. de Mendicutti (Eds), Proceedings of the 14th PME Conference (Vol. 2, pp. 307314). Program Committee of the 14th PME Conference.Oaxtepec,Mexico.

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