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Professor Ty Boyer receives NSF grant to examine students’ development

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In the fall, Dr. Ty W. Boyer was awarded $113,218 by the National Science Foundation for his project “How Proportional Reasoning Relates to Whole Number Operations and Numerical Estimation in Elementary School Children.” Boyer, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology who earned his doctorate in developmental psychology from the University of Maryland, will use the funding to study how elementary school students reason about relative quantities and to develop techniques that teachers might adopt to introduce mathematical concepts most effectively.

“Forming an understanding of proportionality is a major milestone in mathematical development in the elementary and middle school years,” Boyer said. “However, research has shown that children have great difficulty reasoning proportionally, and struggle with fractions and decimals, because they are composed of relative quantities that do not follow the same principles as more familiar absolute quantities.  For example, ¾ is greater than 6/10, though neither 3 nor 4 is greater than either 6 or 10.”

For the study, elementary school students will complete a battery of computerized tasks that will measure their ability to compute proportional equivalence, perform whole-number operations, and estimate numerical quantities. Boyer’s hypothesis is that though these skills will be positively related in the later elementary school years, they will not be in the earlier elementary school years, due to conflicts in the operations involved with the relative-quantity and absolute-quantity problems.  In a second experiment, another group of elementary school students will complete a series of relative- or absolute-quantity problems followed by the proportional-reasoning task. The hypothesis here is that students who solve relative-quantity problems first will perform better on the proportional-reasoning task than those who initially solve absolute-quantity problems, which will contribute to an understanding for how these concepts might be taught.

“This project will inform the developmental progression that underlies much of mathematical thinking,” he said. “The results will contribute to an understanding of how to best instruct children in mathematical concepts and will directly impact science, technology, engineering, and mathematics educational practices.”

Posted in Research Express News

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