Beyond recursive patterning: visual representations to promote algebraic thinking with primary students
Master of Education
SubjectAlgebra and mathematics curricula in primary grades
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This case study examined the impact of using designed visual representations of simple linear functions on Grade 2/3 students’ development of algebraic thinking. I also looked for the connections between the use of visual representations of linear functions and young students’ understanding of multiplication. A pre-assessment interview, five-lesson intervention, and post-assessment interview sequence was used over the span of one and a half weeks with a retention task that followed approximately two weeks later. The fivelesson intervention was developed to prominently feature designed visual representations, along with other representations (e.g. table of values, pattern rules, narrative contexts), of simple linear functions to encourage students’ development of explicit reasoning skills. All students developed some level of explicit reasoning and were able to generalize about simple linear functions by the end of the study. Most students moved beyond recursive thinking and were able to generate and apply explicit pattern rules for simple linear functions in order to generalize about any term within that function. Students’ development of explicit reasoning in order to work with simple linear functions often sparked a need for a new operation: the invention of repeated addition and, or, multiplication. Activities involving explorations of simple linear functions that prominently feature designed visual representations led most of the students in the study to develop explicit reasoning skills and an early understanding of multiplication.