You'll see what you mean: Students encode equations based on their knowledge of arithmetic

Cognitive Science 28 (3):451-466 (2004)
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Abstract

This study investigated the roles of problem structure and strategy use in problem encoding. Fourth‐grade students solved and explained a set of typical addition problems (e.g., 5 + 4 + 9 + 5 = _) and mathematical equivalence problems (e.g., 4 + 3 + 6 = 4 + _ or 6 + 4 + 5 = _ + 5). Next, they completed an encoding task in which they reconstructed addition and equivalence problems after viewing each for 5 s. Equivalence problems of the form 4 + 3 + 6 = 4 + _ overlap with a perceptual pattern found in traditional arithmetic problems (i.e., answer blank in final position), and students' encoding was poorest on problems of this type. Individual differences in encoding the equivalence problems were related to variations in strategy use. Some students solved blank‐final equivalence problems using the standard arithmetic strategy of performing all given operations on all given numbers. These students made more errors in encoding problem structure, but fewer errors in encoding the numbers, than did students who solved the problems using correct or other incorrect strategies. Moreover, students who expressed many strategies for solving the blank‐final equivalence problems made fewer errors in encoding problem structure, but more errors in encoding the numbers, than did students who expressed only a single strategy. Results highlight that encoding is intended to guide action and that prior experience can simultaneously facilitate and interfere with accurate encoding.

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