Are physical experiences with the balance model beneficial for students’ algebraic reasoning? An evaluation of two learning environments for linear equations

Otten, M., Van den Heuvel-Panhuizen, M., Veldhuis, M., Boom, J., & Heinze, A. (2020). Are physical experiences with the balance model beneficial for students’ algebraic reasoning? An evaluation of two learning environments for linear equations. Education Sciences, 10(6), 163.

primair onderwijs

The balance model is often used for teaching linear equation solving. Little research has investigated the influence of various representations of this model on students’ learning outcomes. In this quasi-experimental study, we examined the effects of two learning environments with balance models on primary school students’ reasoning related to solving linear equations. The sample comprised 212 fifth-graders. Students’ algebraic reasoning was measured four times over the school year; students received lessons in between two of these measurements. Students in Intervention Condition 1 were taught linear equation solving in a learning environment with only pictorial representations of the balance model, while students in Intervention Condition 2 were taught in a learning environment with both physical and pictorial representations of the balance model, which allowed students to manipulate the model. Multi-group latent variable growth curve modelling revealed a significant improvement in algebraic reasoning after students’ participation in either of the two intervention conditions, but no significant differences were found between intervention conditions. The findings suggest that the representation of the balance model did not differentially affect students’ reasoning. However, analyzing students’ reasoning qualitatively revealed that students who worked with the physical balance model more often used representations of the model or advanced algebraic strategies, suggesting that different representations of the balance model might play a different role in individual learning processes

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