Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Middle-Secondary Education and Instructional Technology

First Advisor

Christine D. Thomas, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Laurie Brantley-Dias, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Mary B. Shoffner, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

George Davis, Ph.D.


This study explored the development of student’s conceptual understanding of limit and derivative when specific computational tools were utilized. Fourteen students from a secondary Advanced Placement Calculus AB course explored the limit and derivative concepts from calculus using computational tools in the Maple computer algebra system. Students worked in pairs utilizing the pair-programming collaborative model. Four groups of student pairs constructed computational tools and used them to explore the limit and derivative concepts. The remaining four student pairs were provided similar tools and asked to perform identical explorations.

A multiple embedded case design was utilized to explore ways students in two classes, a programming class P and a non-programming class N, constructed understandings focusing upon their interactions with each other and with the computational tools. The Action-Process-Object-Schema (APOS) conceptual model and Constructionist framework guided design and construction of the tools, outlined developmental goals and milestones, and provided interpretive context for analysis.

Results provided insights into the effective design and use of computational tools in fostering conceptual understanding. The study found the additional burden of programming redirected students’ attention away from the intended conceptual understandings. The study additionally found, however, that pre-constructed tools effectively promote conceptual understanding of the limit concept when coupled with a mature conceptual model of development. Four themes influencing development of these understandings emerged: An instructional focus on skills over concepts, the instructional sequence, the willingness and ability of students to adopt and utilize computational tools, and the ways cognitive conflict was mediated.


Included in

Education Commons