Conceptual knowledge in introductory calculus

Paul White*, Michael Mitchelmore

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    62 Citations (Scopus)


    Responses to word problems involving rates of change were collected on four occasions during and after 24 hours of concept-based calculus instruction given to a group of first-year university students, all of whom had studied calculus in secondary school. The number of students who could symbolize rates of change in noncomplex situations increased dramatically. However, there was almost no increase in the number who could symbolize rates of change in complex items or in items that required modeling a situation using algebraic variables. Detailed analysis revealed three main categories of error, in all of which variables are treated as symbols to be manipulated rather than as quantities to be related. We surmise that the students had developed an "abstract-apart" concept of a variable rather than the "abstract-general" concept that is needed for the successful study of calculus.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)79-95
    Number of pages17
    JournalJournal for Research in Mathematics Education
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1996

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