A characterization of a unified notion of mathematical function: the case of high school function and linear transformation

Michelle Zandieh, Jessica Ellis, Chris Rasmussen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


As part of a larger study of student understanding of concepts in linear algebra, we interviewed 10 university linear algebra students as to their conceptions of functions from high school algebra and linear transformation from their study of linear algebra. An overarching goal of this study was to examine how linear algebra students see linear transformation as related to high school function. Analysis of these data led to a characterization of student responses into three categories of mathematical structures used to discuss function: properties, computations, and a series of five interrelated clusters of metaphorical expressions. In this paper, we use this analytic framing for exploring the question: to what extent does each of the students in this study have a unified concept image of function across two mathematical contexts, high school algebra and their study of linear algebra? We found that students who expressed a unified notion of function used metaphorical language to bridge any gaps between the notion of function from high school and the notion of linear transformation from linear algebra. We conjecture that the framing of computations, properties, and metaphorical clusters could be extended to discussions of functions in contexts with other mathematical domains. Future research that further examines the extent to which undergraduate students develop a unified concept image of function could then lead to various design research efforts aimed at explicitly fostering such a unified understanding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-38
Number of pages18
JournalEducational Studies in Mathematics
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1 2017


  • Concept image
  • Conceptual metaphor
  • Function
  • Linear algebra
  • Linear transformation
  • One-to-one

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Mathematics(all)
  • Education


Dive into the research topics of 'A characterization of a unified notion of mathematical function: the case of high school function and linear transformation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this