High school learners’ mental construction during solving optimisation problems in Calculus: a South African case study
This qualitative case study in a rural school in Umgungundlovu District in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, explored Grade 12 learners’ mental constructions of mathematical knowledge during engagement with optimisation problems. Ten Grade 12 learners who do pure Mathemat-ics participated, and data were collected through structured activity sheets and semi-structured interviews. Structured activity sheets with three tasks were given to learners; these tasks were done in groups, and the group leaders were interviewed. It was found that learners tended to do well with routine-type questions, implying that they were functioning at an action level. From the interviews it appeared that learners might have the correct answer, but lacked conceptual understanding. Exploring learners’ mental constructions via their responses to activity sheets and interviews enabled common errors and misconceptions to be identified. Themes that emerged were that learners: 1) lacked the understanding of notation dy/dx, 2) had not constructed the derivative and minima/maxima schema, 3) had some difficulty in modelling problems, 4) preferred rules and formulas, and 5) applied algebraic notions incorrectly. Inferences are drawn for curriculum developers and teachers. This study also formulated itemised genetic decompositions for particular tasks, which contribute to APOS theory.
Keywords: APOS theory, Calculus, genetic decomposition, optimisation