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The Effect of a Constructivist Learning Environment on the Limit Concept among Mathematics Student Teachers

Abstract The purpose of this study is to design a constructivist learning environment that helps learning the limit concept. The study is a pretest-posttest quasi-experimental research. The control and the experimental groups were chosen from the students attending a calculus course. Worksheets were used to assess students’ learning of the limit concept. As a result of data analysis, it was found that the constructivist learning environment provided positive contribution to learning of the limit concept. It was determined that the experimental group was more successful than the control group in seeing the relations between the limits and the real world. At the same time, experimental group had lesser difficulty in understanding the limits. However, both the experimental and the control groups had difficulty in applying the deltaepsilon approach. It is concluded that this study would guide when learning environment is design to construct mathematical concepts.

Key Words Constructivism, Designing Constructivist learning Environment, The Limit Concept, Learning Activities, Worksheets

*Correspondence: Esra BUKOVA-GÜZEL PhD, Dokuz Eylül University, Faculty of Buca Education, Departments of Science and Mathematics Education Buca ‹zmir, Turkey. Email:
Educational Sciences: Theory & Practice 7 (3) • September 2007 • 1189-1195 © 2007 E¤itim Dan›flmanl›¤› ve Araflt›rmalar› ‹letiflim Hizmetleri Tic. Ltd. fiti.


Constructivism has recently become an important learning approach for the education in Turkey and the curriculum development studies were based on this approach. At the same time, the review of the literature indicates positive effects of constructivism on education (Caprio, 1994; Boaler, 1998; O’Callaghan, 1998; Durmufl, 2001; Bukova-Güzel & Alkan, 2004). Constructivism is usually divided into different types such as cognitive, radical, and social (Durmufl, 2005; Matthews, 1998). Learning perspectives have changed in constructivism (Bhattacharya, 2003; Bodner, Klobuchar & Geelan, 2001; Otting & Zwaal, 2003). As an example, constructivism can be regarded as puzzles (Bukova, 2006). In a puzzle, people try to construct a meaningful whole by using the puzzle’s piece properly. All the pieces must be used and related with each other in order to complete the puzzle. People’s experiences about doing puzzles are also important in this process. When a puzzle is completed people learn many things about it and they can explain their experiences to others. In this process, people can do everything by themselves or can get assistance from their peers. From this perspective, constructivism is used in mathematics education. In mathematics education, the limit concept has been seen as a difficult subject to be learnt (Francis, 1992; Graham & Ferini-Mundy, 1989; Sanchez, 1996; Tall & Schwarzenberger, 1978). Therefore, the purpose of the present study is to design a constructivist learning environment which can provide a contribution in the learning process of the limit concept and determine the effects of such a constructivist learning environment on students’ learning. Method The study is a pretest-posttest quasi-experimental research. The control and experimental groups were chosen from students who were attending a calculus course during the 2005-2006 academic year. The control group was taught the limit concept through traditional ways and the experimental group learned the limit concept within the constructivist learning environment.

The study was conducted with 60 student mathematics teachers at their first year attending a calculus course at Buca Education Fa-

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culty in Dokuz Eylül University. The experimental group consisted of 12 girls and 19 boys, and control group consisted of 11 girls and 18 boys. The study was started by selecting two classes comprising an equal number of students (statistically equivalent).

Qualitative method was used to collect the data in this study. The data were collected by means of the Worksheets Relation to Limit Concept to assess the students’ learning about the limit concept. These worksheets were divided into four sub-groups. In the first group, the purpose is to assess students’ skills on the limit concept and the real world. In second group, the purpose was to assess students’ viewpoints on defining the limit concept in different ways. The third type worksheet was prepared to understand whether the students knew the pre-concept about the limit concept and whether they could construct the concept map of the limit concept. In the last group, the purpose was to assess whether the students constructed the relationship between the limit concept and the other branch of science. The qualitative data were evaluated by reading, coding, grouping, and interpreting. Some of the qualitative data were scored by using rubrics. The rubrics were prepared in five steps which are the classification of the data, correctly using the mathematical language, constructing the geometrical structure, founding the stage of the mathematical modeling, and extending the problem (Marzano, Pickering & McTighe, 1993).

The experimental study was continued six weeks. The students in the experimental and control conditions received 72 hour lessons. The experimental group was divided into nine sub-groups formed of four students. The constructivist learning environment constituted by the researcher was based on the view of cognitive, radical and social constructivism. In additionally, the principles of constructivism were taken into account (Brooks & Brooks, 1993; Eggen & Kauchak, 1997; Ernest, 1995; Jonasen, 1991; Honebein, 1996; Wilson & Cole, 1991’den cited in Murphy, 1997). Students in the experimental group worked with their peers so they could be in a


social interaction. Students in the experimental group discussed the learning activities and some of them were presented via the technological tools and computer animations. Results The data collected in this study illustrated that the constructivist learning environment designed by the researcher provided the versatile positive contributions to acquire and learn the limit concept. The analyses of the data indicated that students related to the limit concepts and the real world in some points. Both the experimental and control groups constructed the relationship between the real word and the concept of limit. When the control group students displayed two different approaches, the experimental group students made nine different approaches about it. The other students displayed practically same approaches. It was seen that the students in two groups could define the limit concept in different ways. It was also found that they did not strain the defining limit concept with different aspects and giving meaning to the limit concept by means of geometrical representations. It was determined that they strained proving the existence of the limit of a function at one point by using the epsilon-delta approach. The experimental group students were more successful in constructing the concept map of the limit concept. They could constitute more feasible and meaningful concept map and relate more sub-concepts. In addition, it can be said that the constructivist learning environment provided much contributions in terms of social aspects. Students also showed good performance in relating the limit concept with other branch of science but the experimental groups’ students also related the limit concept with the social science. Discussions The study showed that some of the students in the control group the limit concept as a boundary and they could have misconceptions like those students in Williams’ research (1989). None of the experimental group students could give an example about the limit concepts as a boundary. They could give more meaningful explanation samples in this step. This finding is consistent with the study of Caprio (1994) in terms of students’ success.

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The present study found that students were generally successful for giving meaning to the limits of polynomial functions. This finding is different from those found by Akbulut and Ifl›k (2005). Both control and experimental group students strained using the epsilondelta approach as Barbé, Bosch, Espinoza and Gascón (2005) stated. It was seen that students made the geometrical approach to the limit concept and they could define the limit concept in an intuitive way. According to Keser (2003), the constructivist learning approach improved students? high level thinking skills. This outcome was also seen both in the present study and that of O’Callaghan (1998). According to Hofe (1997), the limit concept was seen as a difficult subject for students to learn and for teachers to teach. However, it was said that the constructivist learning environment contributed positively in learning the limit concept. In this study, it was determined that the constructivist learning environment affected learning and constructing the limit concept and similar results were also found by Erdo¤an and Sa¤an (2002). This approach can be developed further in relation to different mathematical concepts and for different grade levels.


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