Young students learning formal algebraic notation and solving linear equations: are commonly experienced difficulties avoidable?

2015-07-08T13:25:17Z (GMT) by David P.L. Hewitt
This study looks at a mixed ability group of 21 Year 5 primary students (aged 9-10 years old) who had previously never had formal instruction using letters to stand for unknowns or variables in a mathematics context; nor had they been introduced to formal algebraic notation. Three lessons were taught using the computer software Grid Algebra where they began working with formal notation and were solving linear equations with some degree of success by the end of the lessons. The teaching was such that nothing was explained or justified by the teacher explicitly. The students appeared either not to meet, or to overcome quickly, some of the difficulties identified within previous research studies. They demonstrated remarkable confidence working with complicated linear algebraic expressions written in formal notation. A key feature of the software activities was that formal notation continually needed to be used and interpreted, and the software provided neutral feedback which enabled the students to educate their interpretation of the notation. © 2012 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.