Posts Tagged ‘Student’

Key points:

  • Algebra is a third of the Malaysian Secondary Mathematics curriculum.
  • The article lists a large range of sources relating to misconceptions in the understanding of algebra. It states that, because algebra is an extension of previously acquired mathematical learning, it is linked to the use of symbolic representations and that “Warren (2003) felt that understandings of basic arithmetic operations could assist sucessful transition from arithmetic to algebra.”
  • “Students use the equals sign in both contexts: arithmetic and algebra. The concept of the equals sign in the framework of arithmetic is that of a ‘do something’ signal (Bodin & Capponi, 1996). Many students tried to add “= 0″ to algebraic expressions when they were asked to simplify (Kieran, 1997).”
  • The article cites Booth, 1981, as a refernce for children not understanding the idea of a letter as a variable, and they rather see each letter as representing a digit.
  • The article looks in detail at a range of errors (12 types) made by students. The examples given are from the secondary curriculum and so may not apply to any errors made by children in a primary school – but a worthwhile source to help identify the sorts of errors that could be made.

Main Reference:

  • Lim, K. (2009) ‘An Error Analysis of Form 2 (Grade 7) Students in Simplifying Algebraic Expressions: A Descriptive Study’ Electronic Journal of Research in Education Psychology, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp 139-162

This reading discusses how an average student can benefit from a structured and ordered approach to the teaching of fractions. It could probably be applied to any mathematics topic.

The approach taken was one of understanding the needs of the child first and having an in depth idea of where her weaknesses were. There was a strong focus on the language of fractions – this relates to some of the findings I wrote about yesterday. Fractions are a relative part of maths and their outcome depends entirely on whatever the whole is.

However, we initially observed Audrey having problems in comparing the equivalent fractions 1/3 and 2/6. We therefore used the fraction-lift to clarify equivalent fractions, by making them fractions living at the same floor of the fraction-building and by introducing the metaphor of “roommates” for fractions at the same position on the number line. We now observed how Audrey used the strategy of doubling both the numerator and the denominator to generate equivalent fractions, for example by replacing 2/3 by 4/6 to compare the latter fraction with 5/6.

This gives Audrey a hook to hang her ideas on, something concrete that she can build her learning on. I’m convinced that children need to have the basics of any topic before moving on. I also think that the current approach we have to teaching in this country, based on the current Mathematics Framework, is far too fleeting and jumpy. As practitioners, I feel we need to consider the needs of our children – group parts of topics together so that they have more time to practise and consolidate their learning.

Link (the full article): Ronald Keijzer and Jan Terwel: Audrey’s Acquisition Of Fractions: A Case Study Into The Learning Of Formal Mathematics.

Below are the general responses to the questions posed – I recap the questions and the views are generalised notes from talking to a range of teachers from nursery, through Key Stage 1 and 2. I provide the detailed breakdown of two colleagues from Years 3 and 4.

Throughout these you can see that fractions is a huge, varied and tricky concept to think about, teach and learn. I have found that, throughout my teaching career, children have always found fractions hard, although there are a core of children who grasp it quickly, these are the exception rather than the rule.

It is clear that a hands-on, physical approach is needed at the beginning of fractions work – indeed practical maths was a key talking point of all the teachers throughout the Primary phase. But also, I feel that language is a huge barrier to children’s learning. The language of fractions is often misused throughout life and if they don’t have a solid understanding in the first place, their will only serve to cloud the issue further. Another difficult aspect is the link with division – children who don’t know their multiplication and division facts can’t begin to develop their ideas of fractions

So, how can we bring all these parts together to make up one cohesive whole?!

I think it’s a case of reviewing the way it is taught throughout the Primary Phase. Children have to encounter teachers who are confident in approaching fractions and the subject needs to be taught consistently, removing areas of conflict and making sure that each part of their learning isn’t conflicting with another area. If it is to be taught alone, then it needs to be done until that child grasps that particular stage of learning. My belief however, is that is must feature in each part of mathematics – there can always be a question relating to fractions in whatever is taught. This may help to break some of the barriers to learning that exist – I currently feel that children are very negative towards them.

One key to learning is children’s difficulty with fraction language. Maybe teachers are trying to make too many jumps at the same time, moving too quickly. Maybe this is down to pressures from the curriculum. It is often better to avoid comparisons. For instance, when focussing on halves, it would be better to focus on and describe objects or models that are either halves or not halves, rather than giving objects other labels (much in the same way that children find it easier to learn that bricks are heavy and feathers are not heavy rather than comparing them as heavy and light. Floating and sinking is another example, it is easier to get children to understand things that float and things that don’t float BEFORE investigating things that sink – it’s too confusing).

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Angle with highlighted vertex
Image via Wikipedia

The main reading for this study block (linked below) is a tricky and detailed account of current teaching relating to angles. It’s main findings are that not enough is done to develop the concept of ‘turn’ with children – that an angle can be defined at the amount of turn from one position to another, and that, if it is taught, the main focus is on right angled turns.

Beebots and roamers could be used in school to investigate the idea of turn, but why not use the school grounds? Create obstacle courses in the playground for children to be directed around – making sure that the turns aren’t always at right angles.

Mitchelmore and White state that children need to experience a wider range of angle concepts. They believe that teacher move too quickly on to the abstract idea of an angle – as shown here.

Their research looked at whether children could represent the movement of objects such as a door, or wheel in terms of diagrams and still understand what was happening – whether they could move from the physical to the abstract in one move.

For instance, the angle shown here could represent the movement of the blades of a pair of scissors, or the opening of a handheld fan, things that children could see happening, and represent in a diagram like this. However, children referred to these movements as ‘opening’, not ‘turning’.

Children were asked to represent the angles using bendy straws to demonstrate the movement and the associated angles. If children could see the angle of movement, and explain what was happening, the researchers were happy.

The researchers also looked at children’s ideas of slope, with the idea that this is an area that is overlooked in schools. I would consider this to be the case simply because of the difficulty of representing it as well as not always being able to see the angle that a hill slopes at, for instance.

…most students had some global concept of slope but that many did not quantify it by relating the sloping line to a fixed reference line. Unlike the wheel and door, where the second line may be suggested by the initial position and there is a global movement which can be copied, there is in fact very little to help a naïve student interpret a slope in terms of a standard angle.

We conjecture that many students have a global conception of slope as a single line and do not conceive it in terms of angles. Had the physical model of the hill consisted simply of a sloping plane without any supporting edges, it is likely that far fewer students would have indicated a standard angle interpretation.

Mitchelmore and White discuss how children find it easier to see the turns, angles and slopes when both elements are easily visible (the scissors, fan, etc.) and this is likely to be because it fits more readily to the idea of an angle as drawn above – something they are likely to encounter in class. They go on to say that, “the fact that the standard angle was used more frequently for the door and hill (where one arm must be constructed) than the wheel (where both arms must be constructed) supports the view that the crucial factor accounting for the rate of use of standard angles is the physical presence of the angle arms… 88% of the students used standard angle modelling when both lines were visible, 55% when only one was visible, and 36% when no line was visible.”

There are three main findings to this piece of research.

  1. That angle work can be related to the everyday concepts of corner, slope and turn.
  2. The fewer arms that are present in a particular angle context, the more that has to be constructed to bring it into relation to other angle contexts and, therefore, the more difficult it is to recognise the standard angle. It is only in exceptional cases that the relevant line has to be discovered. In most cases, it has to be invented through conscious mental activity.
  3. That many children form a standard angle concept early, but that this concept is likely to be limited to situations where both arms of the angle are visible. If the concept is to develop into a general abstract angle concept, children will need more help than is presently given to identify angles in slope, turn and other contexts where one or both arms of the angle are not visible. The slope and turn domains are particularly important for the secondary mathematics curriculum, the former because of the frequency of angles of inclination in trigonometrical applications and the latter because it provides a valuable aid in teaching angle measurement.

Again, the more hands on practice children have at experiencing  the different elements of angle, the stronger their knowledge is likely to be.

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