Pre-service mathematics teachers’ nature of understanding of the tangent function

Priestly Malambo(1*)

(1) Department of Mathematics and Science Education, University of Zambia
(*) Corresponding Author


Mathematics teachers’ ability to translate and make connections between representations of functions requires investigation. Consequently, this qualitative case study article focuses on pre-service mathematics teachers’ nature of understanding of the tangent function; a function bearing unique characteristics compared with the sine and cosine functions. Twenty-two finalist pre-service teachers were conveniently selected and assessed concerning the ability to translate a tangent function to the graphical representation. Likewise, participants’ abilities to correctly explain this function and provide appropriate justifications for espoused perspectives were investigated. Although the teachers learned higher mathematics, their assessment was school mathematics-based. Descriptive analyses showed that only one teacher (5%) accurately completed the task. Eleven teachers (50%) did not provide graphs; suggesting a lack of knowledge required to change representation. Ten (45%) drew flawed graphs depicting a lack of understanding of discontinuity of the tangent function at certain angles and the role of a domain. Essentially, these demonstrated mere memorization of the appearance of the tangent graph. A purposive sub-sample of size six then participated in exploratory semi-structured interviews. The interviews allowed participants to elucidate their answers to the initial task. Content analysis of the transcripts corroborated the earlier finding as the interviewees could not coherently explain the tangent function, and failed to justify their reasoning. The teachers demonstrated a superficial understanding despite having studied advanced mathematics. This reinforces the view that studying advanced mathematics does not assure a relational understanding of school mathematics. Therefore, it is necessary for trainee teachers to explore school mathematics.


Pre-service mathematics teachers, graphical representation, translation, compartmentalization, advanced mathematics, tangent function

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