Investigating the use of CAS calculators by senior secondary mathematics students

2017-02-27T01:42:53Z (GMT) by Orellana, Claudia Andrea
Within the past few decades, educational researchers and organisations have recognised the potential benefits digital technologies can bring to the mathematics classroom. Computer Algebra System (CAS) technologies have been available since the 1980s, but were only first incorporated into Australian Victorian schools in 2001 in the form of a pilot study. Currently, the Victorian senior secondary mathematics curriculum requires the use of CAS technology both in the teaching of the discipline and as part of its high stakes examinations. Implementation of a technology, however, does not guarantee that it will be used in the way researchers have envisioned. Various obstacles, such as beliefs and attitudes, have influenced the use of CAS in mathematics by both teachers and students. Students’ perceptions on the use of technology in particular, have not been as vastly explored as those of teachers within the mathematics domain. With CAS playing such a key role in the Victorian university entrance scores, it seemed pertinent to investigate the use of CAS calculators by senior secondary mathematics students, and to understand the underlying reasons for their use or non-use. For this study, a mixed methods approach was utilised comprised of two sequential phases (an explanatory sequential design). The first phase consisted of a quantitative component whereby a questionnaire, the Mathematics and Technology Attitudes Scale (MTAS), was administered to participating Victorian Year 11 and Year 12 mathematics students. The second phase (qualitative), made use of a case study approach involving classroom observations and interviews of Year 11 and Year 12 classes from two participating schools. The main results from the combined data were as follows: • While students generally made frequent use of CAS calculators in senior secondary mathematics, the manner in which they used this technology varied considerably between schools and between classes (e.g., over-reliance, efficient use). • Year 12 students, and those who had a greater number of years of CAS experience, had higher technology confidence which, in turn, influenced their use of CAS calculators. Boys also had higher technology confidence than girls which may have affected how CAS was used by both genders in the classroom. • Attitudes and beliefs also played a key role in students’ use of CAS calculators in mathematics. The more positive these affective factors, the more frequently and effectively CAS was used. • Students studying General/Further Mathematics used the CAS calculator more frequently and efficiently than students studying Mathematical Methods (CAS). Beliefs about how mathematics should be done within both subjects appeared to be an important influential factor. While teachers’ perceptions and approaches were also explored, it is difficult to determine the extent to which they may have influenced students’ use of CAS calculators considering the potential impact of contextual factors and the limited sample size. Further research is needed to compare and contrast the views of teachers and students with respect to CAS technologies, and in the different mathematics subjects, to determine how they may potentially influence each other.