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Flexible thinking and met-befores: impact on learning mathematics. (English)
J. Math. Behav. 32, No. 3, 527-537 (2013).
Summary: In this paper we study the difficulties resulting from changes in meaning of the minus sign, from an operation on numbers, to a sign designating a negative number, to the additive inverse of an algebraic symbol on students in two-year colleges and universities. Analysis of the development of algebra reveals that these successive meanings that the student has met before often become problematic, leading to a fragile knowledge structure that lacks flexibility and leads to confusion and long-term disaffection. The problematic aspects that arise from changes in meaning of the minus sign are identified and the iconic function machine is utilized as a supportive strategy, along with formative assessment to encourage teachers and learners to seek more flexible and effective ways of making sense of increasingly sophisticated mathematics.
Classification: E45 C35 D75
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