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Conceptions of probability held by preservice teachers of secondary school mathematics Koirala, Hari Prasad


The purpose of this study was to explore the qualitatively different conceptions of probability held by two groups of preservice teachers of secondary school mathematics at the University of British Columbia. The study also explored the consistency of participants’ conceptions of probability and their views on the utility of formal probability in solving everyday problems. A set of written tasks, pair-problem-solving tasks, and interview tasks related to probability were given to the participants. A total of 40 preservice teachers participated in the written component, 16 of whom also participated in the pair-problem- solving and the individual interview components. It was found that the preservice teachers held qualitatively different conceptions of probability. Their conceptions of probability were grouped into formal and non-formal. Formal conceptions of probability included the use of probability concepts such as independence and randomness, and the use of probability formulas, rules, and applications in solving problems. Non-formal conceptions of probability included participants’ use of everyday experiences and heuristics as well as the use of science knowledge in solving probability problems. The participants’ conceptions of probability varied widely among tasks depending on whether the tasks appeared to be taken from probability textbooks or from an everyday context. Many participants stated that knowledge of formal probability was not useful in solving everyday problems. Two main conclusions were drawn from the results of this study. First, preservice teachers hold qualitatively different conceptions of probability that largely depend on contexts determined by tasks and settings. Second, students’ understanding of probability may be influenced by their non-formal conceptions, and these should be used in teaching formal probability concepts.

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