Journal of Mathematics and Statistics


Gurudeo Anand Tularam and Kees Hulsman

DOI : 10.3844/jmssp.2013.219.237

Journal of Mathematics and Statistics

Volume 9, Issue 3

Pages 219-237


This study focuses on students in first year environmental science degree programs where traditionally mathematical emphasis has been much less than the strict science or math majors. The importance now placed in applied mathematics means that students need to gain more conceptual and quantitative knowledge in not only the environmental degree programs but also in most if not all non-mathematical majors. In this study, the authors attempt to gain insights into why students fail in mathematical courses where the mathematical requirements are not as demanding as other strict math degree programs. This is done by examining student conceptual thinking patterns and strategies as evident in student prepared scripts. A total of 133 students were requested to prepare a focus sheet to summarize their knowledge on topics learned but they were also told that the focus sheets could be used in exams for notes. This motivated their sheet preparation. The students prepared weekly summaries and later revised and summarized them for later use. Detailed examination of such sheets allowed researchers to study studentsÂ’ knowledge in terms procedural work, math skills, strategies and conceptual knowledge. A study of linear, quadratic and limit sections led to interesting insights not only regarding revision strategies, knowledge of content, but also conceptual and procedural knowledge base and higher order skills such as problem solving focus. Logical and creative competencies were assessed in terms of how and what student focused upon or linked to in order to facilitate application of knowledge. The results show average levels of procedural and conceptual competence but rather low levels in logical and creative competence in preparation of scripts. Almost 50% lacked competency in procedural work while around 54% lacked conceptual competency. Given the emphasis placed procedural skills by students, the levels were lower than expected. However, the lack of structure in their work and deeper levels of understanding of links between the topics learned was concerning. These findings have implications for the first year mathematics teaching teams at universities especially the non-specialist mathematical majors.


© 2013 Gurudeo Anand Tularam and Kees Hulsman. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.