Student Understanding of Definite
Integrals Using Graphical
Representations
Rabindra R. Bajracharya
MST Candidate,
December 7, 2012
Committee Members
Dr. John R. Thompson (Advisor)
Dr. Natasha M. Speer
Dr. Michael C. Wittmann
Outstanding student award 2012
Internship at the Jax Laboratory
Student teaching at J. Bapst HS
Curriculum design &
implementation in two HS
Publications in PERC (finalist) and
RUME proceedings, MST thesis
TRUSE, GSG, PERLOC grants
8 poster presentations, 3 talks
AAPT, PERC, TRUSE, RiSE,
conferences
PHY 107, 121, 122 TA experience
SMT courses, TA workshops
Acknowledgements
Dr. John R. Thompson (Advisor)
Dr. Michael C. Wittmann
Dr. Natasha M. Speer
RiSE Center Faculty
Physics Faculty
RiSE & Physics Staff
UMaine PERL Members
Physics & MST colleagues
Research participants
Funding sources
Special Thanks to
Professor Susan McKay
What is Definite Integral?
Area f(x
1
)x + f(x
2
)x + f(x
3
)x + f(x
4
)x + f(x
5
)x + f(x
6
)x + f(x
7
)x
b
a
x
f(x
i
)
f(x)
y
x
Riemann Sum
b
a
f(x
i
)
f(x)
y
x
Riemann Sum
b
a
f(x
i
)
f(x)
y
x
Definite Integral = Limit of Riemann Sum
b
a
f(x)
y
x
Failure to recognize definite integral as limit of Riemann sum
(Orton, 1983; Bezuidenhout et al., 2000; Sealey, 2006)
y
x
f(x)
b
a
Math Education Research Findings
Confusion between derivative and integral
(Eisenberg, 1992;Ghazali et al., 2005)
y
x
f(x)
b
a
?
Math Education Research Findings
Difficulty with negative integral (overgeneralization of area)
(Orton, 1983; Thompson, 1994; Bezuidenhout and Olivier, 2000)
f(x)
x
o
a
b
y
Math Education Research Findings
V
e
l
o
c
i
t
y
Time
Kinematics Dynamics
Electrodynamics
Electrostatics
Thermodynamics Quantum Mechanics
Time
F
o
r
c
e
Time
C
u
r
r
e
n
t
Position
E
l
e
c
t
r
i
c
f
i
e
l
d
Volume
P
r
e
s
s
u
r
e
Position

2
Definite Integral in Physics
P
r
e
s
s
u
r
e
Volume
V
i
V
f
Work done on the gas =
The cartoon is highly exaggerated.
Work in an Isothermal Process
Students have difficulties with physics
concepts that involve definite integrals
P
r
e
s
s
u
r
e
Volume
Process #1
Process #2
Is Work for Process #1 greater than, less than,
or equal to that for Process #2? Explain.
McDermott et al., 1987
Beichner, 1994
Meltzer, 2004
Nguyen, 2011
(x) vs. x
(x)/A(x) vs. x
A(x) vs. x
(x).A(x) vs. x
Physics Education Research Findings
Is Work for Process #1 greater than, less than,
or equal to that for Process #2? Explain.
Background: Research on PV Diagrams
Meltzer, Am. J. Phys. (2004)
W =
=
Area under
the curve
P
r
e
s
s
u
r
e
Volume
Process #1
Process #2
Intro. level:
Loverude et al., 2002;
Meltzer, 2004
Upper level (UMaine):
Pollock et al., 2007
Common incorrect response
W
1
= W
2
Intro. level:
> 25%
Upper level (UMaine):
~ 50 %
Common incorrect
reasoning
Same beginning and ending
states, so works are same.
Interpretation
Incorrectly assumed work
as a function of state
Is Work for Process #1 greater than, less than,
or equal to that for Process #2? Explain.
Background: Research on PV Diagrams
Meltzer, Am. J. Phys. (2004)
W =
=
Area under
the curve
P
r
e
s
s
u
r
e
Volume
Process #1
Process #2
P
r
e
s
s
u
r
e
Volume
Process #1
Process #2
Compare the works during two processes
Background
Compare the magnitudes of the integrals
Pollock et al., PERC Proceedings (2007)
z
y
Path 1
Path 2
Background: Physicsless Physics Question
> 25% students: Integrals are equal
Specific Difficulties
1
Incorrect or inappropriate ideas
Flawed patterns of reasoning to specific questions
Research Question and Perspective
1
Heron, Proc Enrico Fermi Summer School PER (2003)
How do students understand the aspects
of definite integrals that are relevant
for the understanding of physics concepts?
P
r
e
s
s
u
r
e
Volume
V
i
V
f
y
x
f(x)
b
a
Work =
Instrument Design
a
b
y
x
f(x)
g(x)
Analogous math graph
z
y
Path 1
Path 2
Physicsless physics graph
b. Is the integral I
2
positive, negative, zero or is there
not enough information to decide? Explain.
a. Is the integral I
1
positive, negative, zero
or is there not enough information to
decide? Explain.
Written Survey 1
c. Is the absolute value of the integral I
1
greater than, less
than or equal to the absolute value of the integral I
2
, or
is there not enough information to decide? Explain.
g(x)
y
x
a
b
f(x)
Written Survey 1
Second semester calculus based introductory
physics (N = 97)
Multivariable calculus (N = 97)
Grounded Theory for Data Coding
1
Examination, Comparison, Breaking down, etc.
Putting back together in new ways
Selecting the core category and filling in
categories
Data Collection and Coding
1
Strauss & Corbin, 1990
Categorization using Grounded Theory
Categorization using Grounded Theory
Categorization using Grounded Theory
x
y
b
a
f(x)
Area under curve
Area above xaxis
Area accumulated
under curve, etc.
Function is in
first quadrant
Function is
positive, etc.
Function increasing
Graph concave up
f(b) > f(a), etc.
Area under
the curve
Position of
the function
Shape of
the curve
x
y
a
b
f(x)
Student Reasoning Category
39%
34%
19%
22%
9%
14%
9%
4%
4%
16%
16%
2%
Qa Qb Qa Qb Qa Qb
No reasoning
Other
Shape
Position
Area
Survey 1: Sign Comparison Results
Positive Negative Zero/NEI
Student Response
g(x)
y
x
a
b
f(x)
42%
5%
4%
6%
4%
21%
5%
Greater than Less than Equal to NEI
Student Reasoning
No reasoning
Other
Endpoint
Position
Area
Compare the magnitudes
of and .
Survey 1: Magnitude Comparison Results
g(x)
y
x
a
b
f(x)
z
y
Path 1
Path 2
Compared to > 25%
for Physicsless
question
x
y
b
a
f(x)
Area under curve
Area above xaxis
Area accumulated
under curve, etc.
Function is in
first quadrant
Function is
positive, etc.
Area under
the curve
Position of
the function
Shape of
the curve
x
y
a
b
f(x)
Student Reasoning Category
Function increasing
Graph concave down
,,
etc.
x
y
b
a
f(x)
Area under curve
Area above xaxis
Area accumulated
under curve, etc.
Function is in
first quadrant
Function is
positive, etc.
Area under
the curve
Position of
the function
Shape of
the curve
x
y
a
b
f(x)
Student Reasoning Category
Incomplete Picture of
Student Understanding of
Definite Integrals
Function increasing
Graph concave down
,,
etc.
Misuse of:
Derivative
Curvature [f]
The FTC
Followup Interviews
g(y)
f(y)
b
a
y
z
Area
Position
Shape
F
o
l
l
o
w

u
p
Q
u
e
s
t
i
o
n
s
Semistructured individual interviews
4560 minutes
N = 7 (N
Phy
= 4, N
Calc
= 3)
a
b
g(y)
y
f(y)
z
f(y)
y
a
b
c
z
Followup on Area Reasoning
Backward integration
Integration of
negative function
b a
g(y)
z
y
f(y)
z
f(y)
y
b
o
a a
b
f(y)
f(y)
f(y)
g(y) g(y)
g(y)
g(y)
Followup on Position Reasoning
Function in different quadrants
z
f(y)
y
a
b
g(y)
b
a
g(y)
y
f(y)
z
Followup on Shape Reasoning
Tipped down curves Changed concavity
Interview Results for Negative Integrals
f(y)
y
a
b
c
z
Conflicts with the role of area
Misuse of the Fundamental Theorem of Calc
Use of physics to make sense of integrals
a
b
g(y)
y
f(y)
z
3 (out of 7) students  sign is positive
Conflicts with the role of area
If you counted this way [moving his
hand from right to left] or you count
this way [moving his hand from left to
right across the diagram] and you keep
the dx the same, you should find the
same area, right?  Simon
If you wanted to find area, it would
always be positive, whereas if one did
only math, one could get a negative
sign.  Freddie
a b
g(y)
y
f(y)
z
f(y)
y
a
b
c
z
y
f(x)
x a
b
Survey 2
7% (N
Phy
= 80, N
Calc
= 33) of students determined the sign as
positive based on area reasoning (area is always positive)
y
x
f(x)
g(x)
b
a
o
a
f(x)
y
b
g(x)
So, if this value [pointing to the endpoint of his curve]
is larger than this value [pointing to the starting point],
that should be a negative value.  Freddie
Misuse of the Fundamental Theorem
...and then this way [righttoleft] its
going to be negative work because its
compressing and so, like thats how I
know which direction to go in is by like
an intuitive knowledge of what I am
doing with this integral.  Abby
Use of Physics to Reason
About Negative Integrals
In order to get negative area it is not...
conceptually, looking at like a plot of
land, it would be an impossibility.
However, we are looking at something
like a voltage; voltages can very easily
go negative  Freddie
a b
g(y)
y
f(y)
z
f(y)
y
a
b
c
z
g(x)
y
x a b
f(x) z
y
Path 1
Path 2
P
r
e
s
s
u
r
e
Volume
Process #1
Process #2
Students have difficulties with the various
aspects of integrals that are relevant to physics
concepts (negative integrals in particular)
Difficulty with backward integration
Misuse of the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus
The use of physics contexts seems to help
students make sense of definite integrals
Inconsistencies in representations across
physics and mathematics can lead to difficulties
Conclusions
Emphasize consistency in notation and
representations in calculus and physics
More emphasis on negative integrals
Address the notion of area
Put more emphasis on roles of function and
direction of integration for sign
Implications for Instruction
Exploration of other physics contexts
(kinematics, electrostatics, etc.)
Use of various representations such as
algebraic, verbal, graphical, numerical, etc.
More detailed investigation of student
understanding of the FTC
Implications for Future Research
Thank you !