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Effects Of Variable Mix On Student Mathematics Performance

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Potpourri of Engineering Mathematics

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.513.1 - 9.513.8



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Paper Authors

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Gustavo Molina

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George Clark

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Aniruddha Mitra

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3565

Effects of Variable Mix on Student Mathematics Performance

George Clark, Aniruddha Mitra, and Gustavo Molina Georgia Southern University


Engineering and Engineering Technology students encounter a wide variety of variables in their coursework. To prepare for courses in their specific majors, these students usually take a common core of mathematics classes, which are typically taught using x and y. The authors wished to determine whether students’ mathematical performance using other variables was on a par with their ability to manipulate x and y. A ten problem quiz was designed in two versions: one using only x and y, the other using a wider range of variables. The problems were identical in all other respects. Since the population to be tested included first-year students, none of the problems was calculus-based. One of the questions did not use any variable at all. This was included as a control question. The quiz was given to one hundred twenty-four students in first, second, and third year courses at Georgia Southern University. The sample population is a mix of Engineering and Engineering Technology majors, including native and transfer students. Students in several classes were given the quiz with the two versions randomly distributed within each class. Students taking the xy version of the quiz scored significantly higher than students taking the mixed-variable quiz. Students with higher class rankings (juniors and seniors) showed a lower difference between the quiz versions than did students classified as freshmen / sophomores. Classification of students’ rankings was based on individual mathematics course histories as reported by the students. This paper presents the detailed results of the study, along with suggestions for further research into this topic. These results may be useful in indicating areas where review is needed.


On presenting a set of technology-based problems for teaching mathematics to engineering students, Klebanoff and Winkell1 noted the compartmentalization that exists in which students see little substantive relationship between math, science and engineering. Although they speculated that the type of symbolic manipulations that students are asked to perform in mathematics classes does not prepare them for applying mathematical concepts in science or engineering contexts, they did not further explore the lack of perceived relationship.

In a study of the knowledge and application of College Algebra, Conway Link2 asked students to solve for the radius of a sphere using the sphere’s volume formula. He found that only 34.6% of the surveyed students were able to produce a correct answer, but that the number of mathematics courses taken after College Algebra seemed to increase the likelihood of a correct answer. He ascribed this to students’ encountering an increasing number of examples and problems with “non-traditional” variables and formulas as they progress through their coursework.

On discussing the problems encountered in teaching mathematics to engineering students, Sazhin3 noted that changing the basic equation

“Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright 2004, American Society for Engineering Education”

Molina, G., & Clark, G., & Mitra, A. (2004, June), Effects Of Variable Mix On Student Mathematics Performance Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13911

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