Children learn spurious associations in their math textbooks: Examples from fraction arithmetic.

Published on Apr 26, 2018in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition2.832
· DOI :10.1037/XLM0000546
David W. Braithwaite7
Estimated H-index: 7
(CMU: Carnegie Mellon University),
Robert S. Siegler100
Estimated H-index: 100
(CMU: Carnegie Mellon University)
: Fraction arithmetic is among the most important and difficult topics children encounter in elementary and middle school mathematics. Braithwaite, Pyke, and Siegler (2017) hypothesized that difficulties learning fraction arithmetic often reflect reliance on associative knowledge-rather than understanding of mathematical concepts and procedures-to guide choices of solution strategies. They further proposed that this associative knowledge reflects distributional characteristics of the fraction arithmetic problems children encounter. To test these hypotheses, we examined textbooks and middle school children in the United States (Experiments 1 and 2) and China (Experiment 3). We asked the children to predict which arithmetic operation would accompany a specified pair of operands, to generate operands to accompany a specified arithmetic operation, and to match operands and operations. In both countries, children's responses indicated that they associated operand pairs having equal denominators with addition and subtraction, and operand pairs having a whole number and a fraction with multiplication and division. The children's associations paralleled the textbook input in both countries, which was consistent with the hypothesis that children learned the associations from the practice problems. Differences in the effects of such associative knowledge on U.S. and Chinese children's fraction arithmetic performance are discussed, as are implications of these differences for educational practice. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved).
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