Applying covariational reasoning while modeling dynamic events: A framework and a study

Marilyn Carlson, Sally Jacobs, Edward Coe, Sean Larsen, Eric Hsu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

280 Scopus citations


The article develops the notion of covariational reasoning and proposes a framework for describing the mental actions involved in applying covariational reasoning when interpreting and representing dynamic function events. It also reports on an investigation of high-performing 2nd-semester calculus students' ability to reason about covarying quantities in dynamic situations. The study revealed that these students were able to construct images of a function's dependent variable changing in tandem with the imagined change of the independent variable, and in some situations, were able to construct images of rate of change for contiguous intervals of a function's domain. However, students appeared to have difficulty forming images of continuously changing rate and could not accurately represent or interpret inflection points or increasing and decreasing rate for dynamic function situations. These findings suggest that curriculum and instruction should place increased emphasis on moving students from a coordinated image of two variables changing in tandem to a coordinated image of the instantaneous rate of change with continuous changes in the independent variable for dynamic function situations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)352-378
Number of pages27
JournalJournal for Research in Mathematics Education
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2002


  • Applications
  • Calculus
  • Cognitive development
  • College mathematics
  • Functions
  • Mathematical modeling
  • Reasoning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Mathematics (miscellaneous)
  • Education


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