Date of Award

2004

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Mathematics

Advisor

John E. Donovan

Second Committee Member

Robert Franzosa

Third Committee Member

Tod Shockey

Abstract

The disposition of a student towards mathematics impacts their mathematical activities and the mathematics they learn (Garofalo, 1989; Thompson, 1992). In order to investigate college students' mathematical disposition, a survey is being developed by mathematics education researchers at The University of Maine called the Mathematical Disposition Survey (or MDS). The MDS was adapted from the Maryland Physics Expectations (MPEX) survey, which was developed by physics education researchers in the University of Maryland's Physics Department to assess student expectations in introductory calculus-based physics courses (Redish, Saul, & Steinberg, 1998). As part of the development and piloting of the MDS, I developed a calculation to interpret the survey results called the Mean Distance from Optimal (MDO). The MDO is a measure of a student's disposition towards mathematics that is based on an optimal response to the survey items. Optimal responses were determined by the responses that experts (faculty from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at The University of Maine) would like for their students to give. The MDO measures the difference between an individual's responses and these optimal responses. Although the MDO analysis is different from the analysis performed on MPEX data, a high positive correlation is shown. The MDS was adapted from the MPEX based on convenience. In order to help validate its content, the MDS is compared with four other surveys that were designed to assess beliefs about mathematics. The structure of the surveys is considered in relation to characterizations of students' beliefs about mathematics that have been offered in the research literature: the instrumentalist, Platonist, and problem-solving views. The types of beliefs that the MDS is assessing are hypothesized to be closely related to these characterizations, in particular the instrumentalist view.

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