The space between an unknown and a variable
HewittDavid P.L.
2015
The meaning given to letters is significant for students’ ability to be successful with
algebraic tasks. Recent studies have noted that even when students have a sense of
generalised number, they often have a natural number bias in the values they think a
letter can take. This study analyses interviews from 13 students across two schools to
explore the meaning they had for letters. The responses supported the idea that some
students have a natural number bias and also that the notion of a letter representing a
fraction is problematic. In addition, three other factors emerged which affected the
meaning given to a letter: what was mentally stressed; the desire to avoid “messy”
calculations; and viewing an equation as an example of a wider class of equations.