Potgieter Harding Engelbrecht - JRST 2008

Transfer of algebraic and graphical thinking between mathematics and chemistry
J Res Sci Teach 45: 197-218, 2008.

Marietjie Potgieter, Ansie Harding, Johann Engelbrecht
email: jengelbr@up.ac.za

Students in undergraduate chemistry courses find, as a rule, topics with a strong mathematical basis difficult to master. In this study we investigate whether such mathematically related problems are due to deficiencies in their mathematics foundation or due to the complexity introduced by transfer of mathematics to a new scientific domain. In the investigation we exposed a group of students to a chemistry instrument based on the Nernst equation in electrochemistry, and an equivalent group of students to a similar mathematics instrument in which the questions were stripped of all chemistry context. Both tests contained items requiring algebraic as well as graphical skills. Students experienced few problems with the algebraic questions in both the chemistry and mathematics tests. Their graphical construction and interpretation skills, on the other hand, are inadequate, as can be seen from the poor performance in both the mathematics and the chemistry results of the graphical question. Our conclusion is that the problem seems to lie at the mathematics side and is not due to the transfer of mathematics to an application.

© Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Received: 18 April 2006; Revised: 15 February 2007; Accepted: 25 February 2007

10.1002/tea.20208 About DOI