# Understanding Qualitative Calculus: A Structural Synthesis of Learning Research

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## Abstract

More than a decade of research and innovation in using computer-based graphing and simulation environments has encouraged many of us in the research community to believe important dimensions of calculus-related reasoning can be successfully understood by young learners. This paper attempts to address what kinds of calculus-related insights seem to typify this early form of calculus reasoning. The phrase “qualitative calculus” is introduced to frame the analysis of this “other” calculus. The learning of qualitative calculus is the focus of the synthesis. The central claim is that qualitative calculus is a cognitive structure in its own right and that qualitative calculus develops or evolves in ways that seem to fit with important general features of Piaget's analyses of the development of operational thought. In particular, the intensification of rate and two kinds of reversibility between what are called “how much” (amount) and “how fast” (rate) quantities are what interactively, and collectively,characterize and help to define understanding qualitative calculus. Although sharing a family resemblance with traditional expectations of what it might mean to learn calculus, qualitative calculus does not build from ratio- or proportion-based ideas of slope as they are typically associated with defining rate. The paper does close, however, with a discussion of how understanding qualitative calculus can support and link to the rate-related literature of slope, ratio and proportion. Additionally, curricular connections and implications are discussed throughout to help illustrate and explore the significance of learning qualitative calculus.

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