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This 1989 paper makes a theoretical and empirical comparison between two Van Hiele testing instruments. These paper-and pencil instruments were developed by researchers at the University of Stellenbosch, Republic of South Africa and Chicago University, U.S.A. respectively. The tests are compared according to the geometric concepts covered, the mathematical processes involved, assignment of students in Van Hiele levels, hierarchical structure and reliability.

This 1989 paper makes a theoretical and empirical comparison between two Van Hiele testing instruments. These paper-and pencil instruments were developed by researchers at the University of Stellenbosch, Republic of South Africa and Chicago University, U.S.A. respectively. The tests are compared according to the geometric concepts covered, the mathematical processes involved, assignment of students in Van Hiele levels, hierarchical structure and reliability.

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Eddie Smith, Bellville College of Education, South Africa

Michael de Villiers, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa

Abstract

This study makes a theoretical and empirical comparison between two Van Hiele

testing instruments. These paper-and pencil instruments were developed by

researchers at the University of Stellenbosch, Republic of South Africa and

Chicago University, U.S.A. respectively. The tests are compared according to the

geometric concepts covered, the mathematical processes involved, assignment of

students in Van Hiele levels, hierarchical structure and reliability.

Introduction

The Van Hiele model of geometric thought emerged from the companion

doctoral dissertations of P M van Hiele and his wife D van Hiele-Geldof. This

model posits the existence of five discrete levels of understanding in geometry,

each describing characteristics of the thinking process. It is not only descriptive

of behaviours of students at certain levels but also predicts other behaviors, e.g.

test performance.

In efforts thus far to establish the validity of the Van Hieles’ claims, use has been

made of clinical interviews (Mayberry, 1981; Burger & Shaughnessy, 1986; Fuys

et.al. 1988) and/or paper-and-pencil tests (Usiskin, 1982; De Villiers & Njisaqne,

1987). All these studies verify the general validity and value of the Van Hiele

model. In this study two paper-and-pencil test are compared with regards to

their descriptive and predictive abilities.

The 1 through 5 system is used to denote the levels. The index 0 is then

reserved for those students who do not operate on Van Hiele’s basic level. For

Poster paper presented at 13th Conference for the Psychology of Mathematics Education (PME-

13), Paris, 1989.

Level 1:

The student recognizes geometric figures (e.g. square) and relations (e.g.

parallel) by their global appearance.

Level 2:

Here the properties of the configuration are perceived. In addition the student

acquires the necessary vocabulary to describe the properties.

Level 3:

The student logically orders properties of figures. Class inclusion, definitions and

logical implications become meaningful.

Level 4:

The role of deduction is understood.

Level 5:

The student analyzes various deductive systems with a high degree of rigor.

The last level is ignored in this study. This decision can be explained by the fact

that it is not covered by South African school syllabi and Usiskin’s conclusion that

“level 5 either does not exist or is not testable.” (Usiskin, 1982: 79).

The major characteristics of the Van Hiele model, as adapted from Usiskin (1982)

and Fuys et.al. (1988) are:

• That students move through the levels in a fixed sequence.

• The subject matter that was implicit on level n – 1, becomes explicit on

level n.

• Each level has its own linguistic symbols and networks connecting these.

• Subject matter is perceived differently at different levels.

• The learning process leading to complete understanding at the next level,

has distinct phases. (See Fuys et.al. 1984: 223).

Methodology

Sample

Poster paper presented at 13th Conference for the Psychology of Mathematics Education (PME-

13), Paris, 1989.

The research group used in the empirical part of the study consisted of 1465

students at 10 Secondary schools in the Western Cape during 1986; 900 were in

Grade 9 and 565 were in Grade 10. The choice of schools was arbitrary and

depended mainly on the cooperation of the principals: 82.6% of students in

Grade 9 were in the 14 – 16 year category and 92.3% of Grade 10 students in

the 15 – 17 years group. Female students in Grade 9 were 51.6% as were

35.6% of those in Grade 10.

The Instruments

Test A was developed by the Research Unit for Mathematics Education at the

University of Stellenbosch (see University of Stellenbosch, 1984). It consisted of

53 questions, ranging from a simple yes/no response to the construction of

formal proofs. The open-ended nature of certain questions, coupled with a level-

related scoring scheme made assessment on different levels possible. The

following example illustrates this.

Question 32: Give reasons for your answer in 31.

A response like “31. Yes 32. It looks like a rectangle” would be classified as level

1 as this reasoning reflects visual considerations.

However, a response like “31. Yes 32. A square is a rectangle with equal side”

would be classified as level 3 as this entails hierarchical thinking.

Test B was a slightly modified version of the test complied by the Cognitive

Development and Achievement in Secondary Geometry Project at Chicago

University. The test consisted of 25 multiple choice questions with 8, 7, and 5

questions at levels 1, 2, 3 and 4 respectively. Both tests were applied at every

school on consecutive days and the order was varied in which they were written.

A content analysis was done to determine the extent to which geometric

Poster paper presented at 13th Conference for the Psychology of Mathematics Education (PME-

13), Paris, 1989.

Table 1: Comparison of tests according to concepts

TEST A TEST B

LEVEL 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4

Parallel

4 6 2 2 1 - 1 1

lines

Triangl

4 1 4 1 3 2 2 2

es

Quadril

4 5 11 - 4 5 3 2

aterals

Perpen

dicular - 2 - 1 - - - -

lines

Congru

- 2 3 1 - - - -

ency

TEST A TEST B

Recognition of

Level 1 7 8

shapes

Creating shapes

4 0

(drawing)

Other e.g.

1 0

measuring

Identify properties

Level 2 6 7

using figures

Describing

4 0

properties

Poster paper presented at 13th Conference for the Psychology of Mathematics Education (PME-

13), Paris, 1989.

Use of appropriate

6 0

vocabulary

Level 3 Definitions 5 2

Logical implication

1 2

of statement

Present short

6 0

deductive argument

Hierarchical

8 2

classification

Level 4 Formal proof 5 5

It is apparent from Table 1 that certain concepts are not adequately covered at

all levels. In the light of Mayberry’s (1981; 89) assertion that students are on

different levels for different concepts, it can be claimed that this is a serious

limitation in both tests, but generally Test A covers not only more content, but

also more processes.

For each test a “1” was scored if the response to the question met the criterion

for that level, and a “0” otherwise. Since the students were mathematically

relatively weak, a criterion of 50% for mastery of a level was set. The following

procedure was used to place students:

A student was placed on level n if he/she matched the criterion for that level as

well as for all preceding levels.

A student who did not match the criterion for any of the levels was categorized

as level 0.

A student who mastered level n, but not all of the preceding levels, was

considered unclassifiable with the instrument.

Poster paper presented at 13th Conference for the Psychology of Mathematics Education (PME-

13), Paris, 1989.

Results

The Van Hiele theory as descriptive model

Analysis of the data was done on a VAX 785 computer using SPSS and SPSSX.

The number of students at each Van Hiele level is given in Table 3.

Unclassi

No level 1 2 3 4 Total

fied

Test A 1.9 22.7 72.1 1.6 0.3 1.4 100

Test B 29.5 40.3 10.2 1.9 0.5 17.5 100

Both tests are useful as testing instruments to assess students’ Van Hiele levels,

although 82.5% of the students could be classified with Test B as compared the

98.6% with Test A. Despite the high percentages, great differences were

observed with respect to individual placement as only 16% of students were

placed on exactly the same level. Between 42% and 50.3% showed a shift of

one level. These differences in placement are entirely attributed to the

mathematical processes involved. For instance, students did better with the

drawing of shapes than with the identification of shapes where orientation and

shape varied.

the levels. Nie et.al. (1975; 532) state that for a truly cumulative and uni-

dimensional scale, the reproducibility and scalability coefficients must exceed 0.9

and 0.6 respectively. With Test A both cut-off points were exceeded. With Test B

the reproducibility coefficient exceeded 0.9 but the highest value obtained for

scalability was 0.519. The hierarchical nature was thus only confirmed by Test A.

reliability. For Test A the values ranged from 0.21 to 0.61 and for Test B from

Poster paper presented at 13th Conference for the Psychology of Mathematics Education (PME-

13), Paris, 1989.

0.05 to 0.54. The higher values for Test A may also be attributed to the larger

number of test items.

Here achievement was measured by the student’s performance in school in the

internal geometry examination of July 1986. A 50% mark was used as criterion

and the number of students scoring less than 50% was computed. With both

tests it was found that between 70% and 100% of students at levels 0 and 1

failed to match criterion, while this dropped off to between 0% and 20% for

students at levels 3 and 4. The data generally confirm the predictive validity of

the model with both instruments.

Conclusion

One of the limitations of this study is the homogeneity of the research group

with too large a concentration of students at the lower levels. Although Test A

outperformed Test B in virtually all aspects, the latter has the advantage of being

shorter and more convenient to apply. It is recommended that a standardized

paper-and-pencil test be constructed to clinically assess the level at which a

student is functioning. In the design the following ought to be considered:

• The geometric concepts to be covered

• The variety of mathematical processes

• Questions at each level for each concept.

• The criterion

as well as for changing the curriculum to adapt to the student’s levels of

thinking.

References

Burger, W.F. & Shaughnessy , J.M. (1986) Characterizing the Van Hiele levels of

development in Geometry. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education.

17(1):31-48

Poster paper presented at 13th Conference for the Psychology of Mathematics Education (PME-

13), Paris, 1989.

De Villiers, M.D. & Njisane, R.M. (1987) The development of Geometric thinking

among Black high school pupils in Kwa Zulu. Proceedings of the Eleventh

Conference for P.M.E. 117-123.

Fuys, D. & Geddes, D. & Tischler, R. (1984): English Translations of selected

writings of Dina van Hiele-Geldof and P. M. van Hiele. New York:

Brooklyn College.

Fuys, D. Geddes, D, & Tischler, R (1988): The Van Hiele model of thinking

among adolescents. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education:

Monograph No. 3 Reston: N.C.T.M.

Mayberry, J.W. (1981): An investigation of the Van Hiele levels of Geometric

though in Undergraduate Pre-service Teachers. Unpublished doctoral

thesis: University of Georgia.

Nie, N.H. e.al. (1975) SPSS. Statistical Package for Social Sciences New York.

McGraw-Hill.

Smith, E.C. (1987). A qualitative and quantitative evaluation of two Van Hiele

testing instruments. (Translation). Unpublished M.Ed Thesis: University of

Stellenbosch.

University of Stellenbosch. (1984). Levels of thinking in geometry: Tests 1 & 2.

Unit for Research in mathematics Education, Researchers: P.G. Human &

M.D. de Villiers. (Respectively available at:

http://www.scribd.com/Geometry-Levels-of-Thinking-Test-1-

1984/d/30882207

http://www.scribd.com/doc/30882101/Geometry-Levels-of-Thinking-Test-

2-1984 )

Usiskin, Z. (1982). Van Hiele levels and Achievement in Secondary School

Geometry University of Chicago.

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