Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Building Representations of Children's Meanings

Maher, C. (1990). Building representations of children's meanings. Journal for research in mathematics education6, 79-90.


This chapter walks you through a lesson in a fifth grade math classroom where the teacher is including problem solving group work on a regular basis in her classroom. Many of the tasks she gives her students encourage them to make models of their solutions.

Much of the chapter focuses on two students discussing possible solutions to the following problem: "At Pizza Hut each large pizza is cut into 12 slices. Mrs. Elson ordered two large pizzas. Seven students from Mrs. Elson's class are to eat one piece from each of the pizzas. What fraction of the two pizzas was eaten?" The two boys in this scenario are at odds because one chooses to solve the problem using models and one uses paper and pencil computations. They can not seem to understand each other's interpretations of the problem. To further complicate the situation, the teacher misinterprets one of the boy, Brian's thinking on the problem even though he was correct. In the teacher's mind, one pizza was "the whole". In the Brian's mind, both pizzas formed "the whole" together. When Brian answered that the class would eat 14/24 of the pizza, the teacher viewed that as him incorrectly adding the denominators instead of viewing the problem a different way. The teacher led the boys through a discussion to get them to come around to her way of thinking instead of attempting to understand where they were coming from. The boys eventually changed their answer, but were still unclear as to why their original answer was "wrong".

A year later, the boys were given the same problem. Both of them remarked that they were familiar with the problem, but didn't remember how they solved it. When Brian solved the problem this time, he still got the answer 14/24 indicating that the teacher's reasoning had not stuck with him. This is because her answer had no meaning to him and it did not make sense. The chapter asserts that, "a more promising approach is for the teacher to try to understand what the students were doing and why, and then to provide them with an opportunity to see their own faulty reasoning."

"...one of the tasks that a teacher faces is to construct in her or his own mind a mental representation that matches the student's mental representation." -page 82

"A teacher's failure to recognize the way a student is thinking about a problem can at the very least end up wasting time in mutual misunderstanding." -page 90


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