The space between an unknown and a variable

2015-07-08T13:37:55Z (GMT) by David P.L. Hewitt
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.