Variation of Tasks as a Strategy to Enhance Students’ Learning of Algebra

Ng Swee Fong


Algebra challenges students and teachers alike. Students find algebra abstract. In particular the structural conception of algebra confounds students. Why should the task: (a) simplify x2 + 3x + 2 be any different from; (b) solve x2 + 3x + 2 = 0? Despite their best efforts, teachers find that many students continue to solve task (a) when there is no reason for doing so. Research shows that these two tasks require students to have constructed different meanings of structure and meanings of letters for such algebraic objects. What does it mean to simplify and what does it mean to solve? What meanings do letters have in each of these cases? In this talk, I wish to share how simple yet innovative strategies could be used to help students discern one set of tasks from another. These strategies, underpinned by the theory of variation (Marton & Tsui, 2004) were tested out by teachers in Singapore. Their work showed that students improved in their performance with various types of algebra tasks. Students’ improvements were reflected in terms of their capacity to justify their choices. 


Algebra; Sorting Activities; Singapore

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