for the learning of mathematics

Christian Bokhove and  Paul Drijvers - Vol. 30 Num. 3 (2010)
 Symbol sense behavior in digital activities


The algebraic expertise that mathematics education is aiming for includes both procedural skills and conceptual understanding. To capture the latter, notions such as symbol sense, gestalt view and visual salience have been developed. We wonder if digital activities can be designed that not only require procedural algebraic skills, but also invite symbol sense, and if the notions of gestalt view and visual salience are helpful in understanding student behavior in such a digital environment. To investigate this, a prototypical digital algebra environment was designed, consisting of thirty tasks, which focus on these two characteristics of symbol sense. The activities were piloted in five one-to-one think-aloud sessions with students from pre-university grade 12. The results suggest that the students’ behaviors indeed can be understood in terms of (lack of) symbol sense, and that the notions of gestalt view and visual salience apply to behavior in digital environments as well. Therefore, we believe digital activities can invite symbol sense; the educational exploitation of such environments is not trivial.


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