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The development of multiplicative thinking and proportional reasoning: Models of conceptual learning and transfer

This thesis considers the development of multiplicative thinking and proportional reasoning from two perspectives. Firstly, it examines the research literature on progressions in conceptual understanding to create a Hypothetical Learning Trajectory (HLT). Secondly, it surveys modern views of how transfer by learners occurs in and between situations, contrasting object views of abstraction with knowledge in pieces views. Case studies of six students aged 11-13 years illustrate conceptual changes that occur during the course of a school year. The students are involved in a design experiment in which I (the researcher) co-teach with the classroom teacher. The students represent a mix of gender, ethnicity and level of achievement. Comparison of the HLT with the actual learning trajectory for each student establishes its validity as a generic growth path. Examination of the data suggests that two models of learning and by inference, transfer, describe the conceptual development of the students. There is consideration of students’ use of anticipated actions on physical and imaged embodiments as objects of thought with a focus on the significance of object creation for conceptual growth, and the encapsulation, completeness and contextual detachment of objects. There is broad consistency in students’ progress through the phases of the HTL within each sub-construct though the developmental patterns of individual are variable and temporal alignment across the sub-constructs does not uniformly hold. Some consistency of order effect in concept development is noted. Discussion on the limitations of the HTL includes the difference between knowledge types from a pedagogical perspective, absence of significant model-representation-situation transfer, and order relations in conceptual development. Considerable situational variation occurs as students solve problems that involve applications of the same concepts. Partial construction of concepts is common. This was true of all learners, irrespective of level of achievement. High-achieving students more readily anticipate actions and trust these anticipations as objects of thought than middle and low achievers. The data supports knowledge in pieces views of conceptual development. Complexity for learners in observing affordances in situations, and in co-ordinating the fine-grained knowledge required, explains the difficulty of transfer. While supporting the anticipation of action as significant from a learning perspective the research suggests that expertise in applying concepts involves a process of noticing similarity across contextually bound situations and cueing appropriate knowledge resources.
Type of thesis
Wright, V. J. (2011). The development of multiplicative thinking and proportional reasoning: Models of conceptual learning and transfer (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/5984
University of Waikato
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