Thursday, April 15, 2010

AERA Presentation: Playing the game of story problems: Situated cognition in algebra problem-solving

The following is research that will be presented at the Annual American Educational Research Association Conference in Denver, Co in May, 2010. C. Walkington is finishing up her dissertation with Dr. Petrosino and M. Sherman is a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh.

Walkington, C., Sherman, M., & Petrosino, A. (2010, May). 'Playing the game of story problems: Situated cognition in algebra problem-solving. Poster presentation at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Denver, CO.

Abstract: Several justifications have been presented in the literature for teaching mathematics in contexts relevant to students; first, embedding mathematics in relevant contexts may help students to apply what they learn in school to the real world. Second, using relevant contexts may provide a bridge between what students already understand and the content they are trying to learn. In the present study, we examine these justifications using algebra story problems on linear functions.

In a series of 24 clinical interviews, students from a low-performing urban school were presented with algebra problems, some of which were personalized to the ways in which they described using mathematics in their everyday lives. We found that students rarely activated real world knowledge when solving all types of story problems, had consistent issues with verbal interpretation of stories, and engaged in non-coordinative reasoning where they bypassed the intermediate step of understanding the problem situation before trying to solve the problem. However, some students engaged in sophisticated situation-based reasoning, while others seemed to accept that a lack of sense-making was part of the larger system of school mathematics.