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Levels of Abstraction in Students’ Mathematics Strategies: What Can Applying Computer Science Ideas about Abstraction Bring to Elementary Mathematics?

, , , Michigan State University, United States

JCMST Volume 38, Number 3, ISSN 0731-9258 Publisher: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE), Waynesville, NC USA

Abstract

Moving among levels of abstraction is an important skill for in mathematics and computer science, and students show similar difficulties when applying abstraction in each discipline. While computer science educators have examined ways to explicitly teach students how to consciously navigate levels of abstraction, these ideas have not been explored in mathematics education. In this study, we examined elementary students’ solutions to a commonplace mathematics task to determine whether and how students moved among levels of abstraction as they solved the task. Furthermore, we analyzed student errors, categorizing them according to whether they related to moves among levels of abstraction or to purely mathematical steps. Our analysis showed: (1) students implicitly shift among levels of abstraction when solving “real-world” mathematics problems; (2) students make errors when making those implicit shifts in abstraction level; (3) the errors students make in abstraction outnumber the errors they make in purely mathematical skills. We discuss the implications for these findings, arguing they establish that there are opportunities for explicit instruction in abstraction in elementary mathematics, and that students’ overall mathematics achievement and problem-solving skills have the potential to benefit from applying these computer-science ideas to mathematics instruction.

Citation

Rich, K.M., Yadav, A. & Zhu, M. (2019). Levels of Abstraction in Students’ Mathematics Strategies: What Can Applying Computer Science Ideas about Abstraction Bring to Elementary Mathematics?. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 38(3), 267-298. Waynesville, NC USA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). Retrieved September 20, 2019 from .