Using the computer as a tool for constructivist teaching: a case study of Grade 7 students developing representations and interpretations of mathematical notation when using the software Grid Algebra

2018-04-24T13:17:37Z (GMT) by Philip Borg
The aim of this research was to investigate how I engaged in constructivist teaching (CT) when helping a group of low-performing Grade 7 students to develop new meanings of notation as they started to learn formal algebra. Data was collected over a period of one scholastic year, in which I explored the teacher-student dynamics during my mathematics lessons, where students learnt new representations and interpretations of notation with the help of the computer software Grid Algebra. Analysing video recordings of my lessons, I observed myself continuously changing my teaching purpose as I negotiated between the mathematics I intended to teach and the mathematics being constructed by my students. These shifts of focus and purpose were used to develop a conceptual framework called Mathematics-Negotiation-Learner (M-N-L). Besides serving as a CT model, the M-N-L framework was found useful to determine the extent to which I managed to engage in CT during the lessons and also to identify moments where I lost my sensitivity to students constructions of knowledge. The effectiveness of my CT was investigated by focusing on students learning, for which reason I developed the analytical framework called CAPS (Concept-Action-Picture-Symbol). The CAPS framework helped me to analyse how students developed notions about properties of operational notation, the structure and order of operations in numerical and algebraic expressions, and the relational property of the equals sign. Grid Algebra was found to be a useful tool in helping students to enrich their repertoire of representations and to develop new interpretations of notation through what I defined as informal- and formal-algebraic activities. All students managed to transfer these representations and interpretations of notation to pen-and-paper problems, where they successfully worked out traditionally set substitution-and-evaluation tasks.