One typical challenge in algebra education is that many students justify the equivalence of expressions only by referring to transformation rules that they perceive as arbitrary without being able to justify these rules. A good algebraic understanding involves connecting the transformation rules to other characterizations of equivalence of expressions (e.g., description equivalence that both expressions describe the same situation or figure). In order to overcome this disconnection even before variables are introduced, a design research study was conducted in Grade 5 to design and investigate an early algebra learning environment to establish stronger connections between different mental models and representations of equivalence of expressions. The qualitative analysis of design experiments with 14 fifth graders revealed deep insights into complexities of connecting representations. It confirmed that many students first relate the representations in ways that are too superficial without establishing deep connections. Analyzing successful students’ processes helped to identify an additional characterization that can support students in bridging the connection between other characterizations, which we call restructuring equivalence. By including learning opportunities for restructuring equivalence, students can be supported to compare expressions in graphical and symbolic representation simultaneously and dynamically. The design research study disentangles the complex requirements for realizing the design principle of connecting multiple representations, which should be of relevance beyond the specific concept of equivalence and applicable to other mathematical topics.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEducational Studies in Mathematics
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)399-422
Publication statusPublished - 11.2022
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    Research areas

  • Early algebra, Expressions, Equivalence, Connecting multiple representations, Conceptual understanding

ID: 3588086