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Integrating Arithmetic and Algebra in a Collaborative Learning and Computational Environment Using ACODESA


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In the transition from arithmetic to algebra and in light of the disjunction between the natural and symbolic approach to algebra and the choice of a natural way of learning, this paper discusses the development of a cognitive control structure in pupils when they are faced with a mathematical task. Researchers sought to develop, in novice pupils in both Quebec (12–13 years old) and Mexico (14–15 years old), an arithmetic-algebraic thinking structure that would promote mathematics competencies in a method based on collaborative learning, scientific debate and self-reflection (ACODESA, acronym which comes from the French abbreviation of Apprentissage collaboratif, Débat scientifique, Autoréflexion), and immersed in an activity theory approach. This paper promotes the equal use of both paper and pencil and technology in order to solve a mathematical task in a sociocultural and technological environment.
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Integrating Arithmetic and Algebra in a
Collaborative Learning and Computational
Environment Using ACODESA
Fernando Hitt, Carlos Cortés, and Mireille Saboya1
Abstract In the transition from arithmetic to algebra and in light of the
disjunction between the natural and symbolic approach to algebra and the choice
of a natural way of learning, this paper discusses the development of a cognitive
control structure in pupils when they are faced with a mathematical task.
Researchers sought to develop, in novice pupils in both Quebec (12-13 years old)
and Mexico (14-15 years old), an arithmetic-algebraic thinking structure that
would promote mathematics competencies in a method based on collaborative
learning, scientific debate and self-reflection (ACODESA, acronym which comes
from the French abbreviation of Apprentissage collaboratif, Débat scientifique,
Autoréflexion), and immersed in an activity theory approach. This paper
promotes the equal use of both paper and pencil and technology in order to solve
a mathematical task in a sociocultural and technological environment.
Over the course of the last century, the mathematics curriculum took arithmetic
as a proper subject for study at primary school level education, and algebra as a
proper subject for secondary school level. This dissociation influenced research
in mathematics education, which, in turn, reverberated through the academic
programs implemented. Examining the work of psychologists before the 1940s,
1 Fernando Hitt and Mireille Saboya
Département de mathématiques (GRUTEAM), Université du Québec à Montréal, Montreal,
Carlos Cortés
Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo, Morelia, Mexico
© Springer International Publishing
G. Aldon, F. Hitt, L. Bazzini, U. Gellert (eds.), Mathematics and Technology,
Advances in Mathematics Education, DOI
F. Hitt, C. Cortés, and M. Saboya
Brownell (1942) noted that psychologists used “puzzles” in the study of
intelligence to analyse processes related to the “insight” involved when
individuals solved such problems. Brownell proposed a radical change focusing
on the study of the resolution of the arithmetic verbal problems used in
Brownell’s work (Ibid.) attracted the attention of psychologists and educators
interested in studying the skills involved in solving arithmetic word problems as
a means of understanding the phenomena linked to learning mathematics.
The experience of solving puzzle type problems (where, for example, from 9
matches one is required to build four equilateral triangles, and then, from 6
matches, one is asked to build the same number of equilateral triangles) gave rise
to the analysis of solving problems that had single or multiple solutions. From a
psychological point of view, these factors led, in the case of a problem with one
solution, to an analysis of convergent thinking linked to direct efforts towards
achieving a goal. In the case of problems with multiple solutions, this led to an
analysis of both divergent thinking (Guilford 1967) and creativity (Bear 1993). In
fact, Guilford’s model (Ibid.) stressed the importance of developing divergent
before convergent thinking. Gradually, Brownell's approach led to an extensive
research strand focusing on the phenomena related to the resolution of arithmetic
problems in primary school and the development of arithmetic thinking.
What is arithmetic thinking?
Brownell’s characterisation (Ibid.) of exercises, problems and puzzles
encouraged psychologists and mathematics teachers to focus their research on the
study of arithmetic problem solving. Polya (1945) expanded problem solving to
other levels of education, thus promoting the emergence of a new paradigm.
Some mathematics educators followed this trend and contributed their own new
theoretical approaches (RME through the influence of Freudenthal; Mason,
Burton and Stacey 1982; Schoenfeld 1985; Santos 2010). Returning to primary
school level, for example, Vergnaud’s work (1990) on solving arithmetic
problems led to the identification of both arithmetic in problem solving and
conceptualisation in primary school, and led to the theoretical approach related to
"conceptual fields".
Similar approaches led to some research products in order to characterise
arithmetic thinking. For example, Verschaffel and De Corte (1996), taking into
account the research conducted in the 1990s, propose arithmetic thinking related
to: a) number concepts and number sense; b) the meaning of arithmetic
operations; c) control of basic arithmetic facts; d) mental and written arithmetic;
and, e) word problems using digital literacy and arithmetic skills.
While progress was made in the study of learning problems linked to the
resolution of arithmetic problems, research continued toward an understanding of
the problems related to learning algebra (Booth 1988). The notion of variable
began to be studied (Sutherland 1993), thus promoting investigation into the
Integrating Arithmetic and Algebra in a Collaborative Learning
learning of covariation between variables (Carlson 2002) and the identification of
the role of the variable as an unknown, as a large number, and as a variation
between variables from a functional point of view (Trigueros and Ursini 2008).
Given the organisation of the curriculum, which designated arithmetic for
primary school and algebra for secondary school, researchers began to talk about
the problems related to the transition from one level to the other. At the same
time, the emergence of the notion of epistemological obstacle in the French
school (Brousseau 1976/1983) possibly reinforced this idea of a “break” between
arithmetic and algebra. Vergnaud (1988) points out that the transition from
arithmetic to algebra is linked to an epistemological obstacle. Other approaches,
related to the notion of the unknown in solving linear equations, led to the notion
of a "cut" between arithmetic thinking and algebraic thinking (Filloy and Rojano
1989) or even the cognitive obstacle (Herscovics and Linchevski 1994). These
studies announced the need to characterise algebraic thinking.
What is algebraic thinking?
As mentioned in the previous section, the research paradigm linked to the
“thinking break” between arithmetic and algebra was essential for the
characterisation of algebraic thinking. Under this paradigm, Kieran (2007)
characterises algebraic thinking using a model called GTGm: Generational
algebraic activities involve the forming of expressions and equations;
Transformational activities such as factoring, expanding, and substituting; and,
Global/meta-level mathematical activities such as problem solving and
modelling. An analysis of this model reveals that, in the past, much of the
secondary school level research focused on the teaching of algebra in section G
and T of Kieran’s model. It is likely that the Gm section is linked to the
Freudenthal School’s research results regarding realistic mathematics, at the heart
of which approach is mathematical modelling.
Visual aspects in curricular change in mathematics
In the early 1990s, an important curricular change in the field of mathematics
began. The visual aspects were highlighted in curriculum changes, promoting
displays of the mathematical aspects. A clear example can be seen in the US
Standards (NCTM 2000). In this context, geometric aspects in problem solving
began to be included in algebra. It was explicitly important to approach a concept
through the use of different representations of that concept. From a curricular
standpoint as well as from a general standpoint related to research in mathematics
education, mathematical visualisation has attracted the attention of researchers.
These changes began from a curricular perspective, with a new approach to
teaching algebra and the promotion of a geometric-algebraic approach to algebra.
Progressing along this research line, for example, Zimmerman and Cunningham
(1991) begin the preface of their book with the question: What is visualisation in
F. Hitt, C. Cortés, and M. Saboya
mathematics? This study explicitly referred to an important role in the production
of external representations:
Mathematical visualization is the process of forming images (mentally, or with pencil
and paper, or with the aid of technology) and using such images effectively for
mathematical discovery and understanding. (p. 3)
Technology influenced enormously in these changes. Graphical
representations that caused major programming problems were resolved, thus
giving rise to the production of computer software and enabling an approach to
mathematics from the multiple representations user standpoint.
Early algebra and the emergence of a new paradigm
While the previous section discussed the “rupture” approach to characterise
arithmetic thinking and algebraic thinking, little by little other research programs
arose, which were initially tied to the idea of the generalization of arithmetic”
(see Mason 1996; and Lee 1996). Along these lines, Radford (1996) comments
how these authors stressed an approach to the learning problem regarding
“algebra as a generalised arithmetic”, and goes on to discuss the role of the
unknown and the equation:
The above discussion suggests that the algebraic concepts of unknowns and equations
appear to be intrinsically bound to the problem-solving approach, and that the concepts
of variable and formula appear to be intrinsically bound to the pattern generalization
approach. Thus generalization and problem solving approaches appear to be mutual
complementary fields in teaching algebra. How can we connect these approaches in the
classroom? I think this is an open question (p. 111).
From this perspective, a new paradigm was born. Kaput (1995, 2000)
proposes a research program under the following guidelines, with the first two at
the heart of the learning of algebra and the other three completing this learning:
1. (Kernel) Algebra as a generalization and formalization of patterns and constraints,
with, especially, but not exclusively, Algebra as Generalized Arithmetic Reasoning
and Algebra as Generalized Quantitative Reasoning
2. Kernel) Algebra as syntactically guided manipulations of formalism
3. (Topic-strand) Algebra as the study of structures and systems, abstracted from
computations and relations
4. (Topic-strand) Algebra as the study of functions, relationships and joint variation
5. (Language aspect) Algebra as a cluster of (a) modelling and (b) Phenomena-
controlling languages. (2000, p. 3)
Kaput called this research program Algebrafying the K-12 Curriculum (2000),
while Carpenter et al. (2003, 2005) initiated the Early algebra research project in
1996. This new paradigm formed part of research programs in the XXI century.
Thus, the Early Algebra movement, in which Carpenter and Kaput played an
important early role, is well situated in the USA. The book Early Algebraization,
edited by Cai et Knuth (2011), shows the progress of research in that area in
other countries. In this book, one can appreciate a division between the
Integrating Arithmetic and Algebra in a Collaborative Learning
“enthusiastic” and “cautious” researchers with regard to the Early Algebra
Among the enthusiasts are Blanton and Kaput (2011), as are Britt and Erwin
(2011, p. 139), who even criticised Filloy and Rojano's approach by highlighting
Carraher, Schliemann, Brizuela and Earnest (2006) with regard to their Early
Algebra proposal. Similarly, Schliemann, Carraher and Brizuela (2012) show
how algebraic notation can be introduced in elementary school in order to
develop mathematical content, stating: “The 5th grade lessons focused on
algebraic notation for representing word problems, leading to linear equations
with a single variable or with variables on both sides of the equal sign.” (p. 115).
Among the cautious, are Cooper and Warren (2011), who argue that:
The results have shown the negative effect of closure on generalisation in symbolic
representations, the predominance of single variance generalisation over covariant
generalisation in tabular representations, and the reduced ability to readily identify
commonalities and relationships in enactive and iconic representations. (p. 187)
In this regard, Radford (2011, p. 304) states that: ... the idea of introducing
algebra in the early years remains clouded by the lack of clear distinction
between what is arithmetic and what is algebraic”. On this, the debate remains
open, for example, Lins and Kaput (2012) characterising the movement as:
…algebrafied elementary mathematics would empower students, particularly by
fostering a greater degree of generality in their thinking and an increased ability to
communicate that generality. (p. 58)
As spokespersons for the Early Algebra working group at ICME (2004), they
openly criticised past generations, whose results were exclusively related to “sad
histories”, and specified that, in contrast, the Early Algebra movement presents
research results linked to “happy stories” regarding the experience of learning
algebra content.
The third excluded strikes back!
In light of the research results described above, this study approached the
problems of learning algebra by introducing new variables that could not be left
out of the discussion. As new theoretical approaches about learning algebra are
born, so are different general learning paradigms. Research in the last century
was strongly cognitivist, with Harel, Selden, and Selden (2006), surprised to
learn that, in the PME studies on the period of 1995 - 2005, most of the
investigations related to Advanced Mathematical Thinking were much more
cognitive and less socio-constructivist or sociocultural. While communication in
the mathematics classroom emerges as an essential element, the literature begins
to show that researchers are inclined towards a socio-constructivist or
sociocultural approach.
F. Hitt, C. Cortés, and M. Saboya
Our theoretical approach to an introduction to learning algebra
The research objectives for this study are founded on a cultural approach, which
takes into account the theory of activity and which views communication in the
classroom as essential. The work of Engeström (1999) is taken as a culturally
unifying approach, as advocated by Vygotsky (1962), incorporating Leontiev’s
(1978) activity theory, in which communication is an essential element in the
building of knowledge as described by Voloshinov (1973). Our approach to
Radford’s processes of signification, is immersed in a mathematics classroom
teaching method named ACODESA (see Hitt 2007; and, Hitt and González-
Martín 2015), that also take into account a self-reflection component.
An analysis of the literature on the followers of the Early Algebra movement
shows that some research is aimed at building a “Fast Track” from arithmetic to
algebra. This study posits that a functional approach to algebra should be
followed, such as that developed in both Passaro (2009) and Hitt et al. (2015).
This study concurs with some followers of Early Algebra, in that the use of
patterns is able to generate generalisation processes in pupils, and, thus,
proposes, in the context of the use of patterns, the following:
Generalisation. Construction of the subsequent term in a series when the
previous terms are provided. Construction of an intermediate term when the
previous and subsequent terms are provided. Construction of a term when the
term in the series is a “large number” and when the first terms of the series
have been provided. Construction processes for “any term from the series.
This study considers generalisation in the context of a pattern, where, rather
than as a way of moving quickly from arithmetic to algebra, it is an element used
to integrate into the pupils’ mathematical structure. This will enable the pupils to
develop the skills of prediction, argumentation and validation (Saboya, Berdnaz,
and Hitt 2015), and will assist them in their transition from arithmetic to algebra
and vice versa. Indeed, a research program is proposed here that would develop
arithmetic-algebraic thinking within a sociocultural context of knowledge
As described above, this chapter, seeks to make a modest contribution, in that
it represents the beginning of a research program. Our research is focused on
specific content related to the construction of polygonal numbers in a
sociocultural environment within Engeström’s post-Vygotskian model (1999),
and takes into account the results of those post-Vygotskian authors considered as
comprising the fifth generation, such as Nardi (1997):
The object of activity theory is to understand the unity of consciousness and activity.
Activity theory incorporates strong notions of intentionality, history, mediation,
collaboration and development in constructing consciousness. (p. 4)
As the use of technology in the learning of mathematics is a variable yet to be
mentioned here, Mariotti’s (2012) work on the role of artefacts as mediators in a
Integrating Arithmetic and Algebra in a Collaborative Learning
learning process is integral to the inclusion of technology in a sociocultural
The use of patterns, and especially the construct of generalisation, is related
to mathematical visualisation. Visualisation, as mentioned by Duval (2002), is
different from perception. In our case, then, the following applies:
Visualisation. Considering perception as something created by the individual
a “transparent” mental image depicting the situation with which s/he are
faced visualisation requires the transformation of representations associated
with the task at hand, and the ability to articulate other representations that
emerge in pupils’ resolution processes, as associated with the task.
This study is not only interested in institutional representations (which can be
associated with a register of representations, as described by Duval 1995). It is
also concerned with the non-institutional semiotic representations that can be
produced in a visualisation process (diSessa et al. 1991; Hitt 2013; Hitt and
González-Martín 2015; Mariotti 2012) and which emerge in a semiotic process
of signification (Radford 2003) when pupils follow a process of resolving a
mathematical activity immersed in a technological setting.
Institutional representation. Representation found in textbooks, computer
screens or those used by the mathematics teacher.
Non-institutional representation. Representation produced by pupils, as
linked to actions undertaken in a process of resolving a non-routine activity.
Since the method proposed here is related to polygonal numbers and the use
of technology, ideas related to the construction of polygonal numbers that date
back to the time of the Greeks were considered here. Furthermore, including
technology as one of the variables led to the inclusion of Healy and Sutherland
(1990) and Hitt (1994), who, in Excel environments and Excel and LOGO
environments, respectively, conducted investigations into the construction of
polygonal numbers by secondary school and pre-service teachers respectively.
Healy and Sutherland (Ibid.) mention that the result obtained by those
secondary level pupils (in the Excel environment) that expresses a relationship
linked to the calculation of a triangular number "n",
n = na before + position", is a non-institutional representation linked to a
process of iteration. Hitt (ibid.) criticises these results, indicating that activities in
an exclusively Excel environment provoke “an anchor” which does not allow
them to switch to a classical algebraic context. Hitt (Ibid.) aimed to combine
working with paper and pencil with the use of an applet constructed using the
LOGO program. In light of these results and considering new theoretical and
curricular contributions, both approaches are of contemporary importance, in that
they generate diversified thinking for the production of non-institutional
representations and iteration processes. Secondly, they enable the careful design
of activities that promote the use of paper and pencil, while also fostering the
evolution of the non-institutional representations that emerge at the initial stage
F. Hitt, C. Cortés, and M. Saboya
into institutional representations within meaningful processes (a broader
discussion on task design is provided in Chapter 3 of this volume).
Our research was developed within two populations, with one group from
Quebec comprising 13 first grade secondary school pupils (aged 12-13 years
old), and the other from Mexico, which consisted of 14 third year secondary
school pupils (aged 14-15 year-old). Pupils agreed voluntarily to take part in the
experiment, which aimed to gain insight into the problem, as occurring in the two
populations individually, rather than comparing results.
The Quebec experiment used Excel and an applet called POLY (see
below), which had been designed exclusively for this activity (Cortés and
Hitt 2012). Two researchers, known here as R1 and R2, developed the
teaching experiment in a sociocultural setting. Two cameras and several
voice recorders were used in this experiment.
The Mexican experiment used a calculator (TI-Nspire) instead of Excel
and the POLY applet. The activities were developed by one teacher,
known here as P1, and another researcher, known here as R3. One camera
was used in this experiment.
This study adheres to a teaching method known as ACODESA is divided into
5 steps (fully explained in Chapter 3):
Individual work: production of official and non-official representations
related to the task.
Teamwork on the same task. Process of prediction, argumentation and
Debate (could become scientific debate). Process of argumentation and
Self-reflection (individual work in a process of reconstruction)
Process of institutionalisation.
Engeström’s (Ibid.) model was used to organise the ACODESA steps, taking
into account a sociocultural learning setting. In previous research undertaken by
these authors (see Hitt 2007; Hitt 2011; and, Hitt and González-Martín 2015), the
self-reflection step was implemented immediately after plenary discussion. Due
to problems of knowledge retention (Hitt and González-Martín idem; Karsenty
2003; Thompson 2002), for this experiment we decided that for the self-
reflection step, it would be interesting to implemented 45 days after the plenary
Integrating Arithmetic and Algebra in a Collaborative Learning
ACODESA and activity theory
Fig. 1 ACODESA, as immersed in activity theory in line with Engeström’s model
The two first activities were implemented as an introductory activity in order
to remind pupils of some of the Excel commands and provide a historical
approach to polygonal numbers. The ACODESA method was implemented after
the two previous activities.
1. Resolution of two arithmetic word problems in a paper and pencil
setting and a plenary discussion about how, according to the population,
to solve them with either Excel or a calculator. This was implemented to
remind pupils how to use Excel or a calculator.
2. Introduction to polygonal numbers from a historical point of view.
3. Invitation to the populations to solve the activity in line with the
ACODESA characteristics shown in Fig. 1.
The tasks were used in both countries with only a few changes.
Fig. 2 First five questions in a paper and pencil environment
F. Hitt, C. Cortés, and M. Saboya
The second part of the activity was designed to work with Excel or CAS and
to be verified with the POLY applet.
Fig. 3 Second part of the activity
Analysis of the Quebec results
The first introductory part of the session comprised the individual resolution of
the two word arithmetic problems using paper and pencil, and a plenary
discussion about how to solve the same problems using Excel. Researcher R1
conducted the plenary discussion, immediately after which Researcher R2
conducted a short historical introduction to polygonal numbers and then initiated
the first part of the ACODESA activity related to polygonal numbers. In this first
step, individual work was required, as was work in a pencil and paper
Once the pupils had undertaken the first individual explorations, R2 organised
the teamwork, with Team G1 comprising three girls, Team G2 comprising 3 girls,
Team G3 comprising 3 boys and a girl, and Team G4 comprising a boy and two
girls. Only one computer was permitted for each team.
Integrating Arithmetic and Algebra in a Collaborative Learning
Teamwork and the first results
After pupils exchanged ideas, R2 requested a plenary discussion, asking each
team to present its findings on how to calculate the 11th Triangular number (T11).
Three teams (G1, G2 and G4) presented their findings, while members of Team G3
mentioned that their strategy was similar to the first team (see Fig. 3).
An initial and surprising outcome was the emergence of three different
strategies. Their initial production (see Fig. 3) indicates that the pupils have
undertaken a process of visualisation. They realised that it is possible to move
along the diagonal, adding balls progressively, while one can add to the number
of balls along the diagonal in an arithmetic progression. Pupils presented the first
three iconic figures with their respective values and a process of generalisation in
order to calculate T11 (see Fig. 4).
Fig. 4 The representation used by Team G1
It seems that these pupils have undertaken a visualisation process in order to
construct a general numerical progression. The action of adding balls along on
the diagonal is transformed by adding the number of balls to the arithmetic
progression, thus abandoning the iconic representation used to calculate the 3rd
triangular number.
Team G2 presented the results of their calculation of T11 with a single figure,
indicating that, in the first column, one should place 11 balls, and then reduce the
number of balls in the next column by one (10) in order to reach, at the end, only
one ball, imagining the 1st column with 11 balls, the next with 10, and so on (see
Fig. 4). An initial process of visualisation and generalisation is then made with
only one drawing, thus inducing a numerical process which is inverted, as
compared to that presented by the first team in Fig. 4. Team G2’s visualisation
process is more compact than Team G1, in that the team members made a direct
iconic representation of T11, expressing their process arithmetically. This
example is generic in that they were able to represent any triangular number
under this visual representation.
Fig. 5 The representation used by Team G2
F. Hitt, C. Cortés, and M. Saboya
Team G3 mentioned that they had a similar approach to Team G1. A boy from
Team G4 (named G4-1 hereafter) then approached the blackboard. From his first
representation onwards, this pupil substituted the iconic ball-based representation
for a more practical one, explaining that whenever one passed from one
triangular number to the next, one had to add the appropriate number (see Fig. 6,
below and left).
Fig. 6 The representations used by Team G4 to calculate T11
While giving his explanation, he suddenly changed the strategy without
discussing this with his team members. He changed the representation he was
using to calculate T11 for one which enabled him to construct both an iterative
process to calculate T11 and a generic algorithm for any Triangular number (see
Fig. 6). It seems that, through a process of signification (Radford 2003), the pupil
was constructing a sign that enabled him to arrive at an iterative process for the
calculation of triangular numbers.
An analysis of the pupils’ written productions reveals that there were pupils
in each team who undertook iconic calculations solely counting ball by ball. One
female member of Team G3 said nothing in response to the “leader” of the group
indicating that they had done something similar to Team G1, when in fact she had
actually done something similar to Team G2.
Process of generalisation
R2 then requested that teamwork continue, approaching team G4 and mentioning
that, when undertaking a calculation, they should show their working. A female
member of Team G4 (known as G4-2) interjected by saying that she did not
understand how to calculate T83, thus initiating a dialogue between G4 and R2,
with G4-1 and G4-2 mainly involved in the discussion.
R2: You must calculate it ... and show what you did.
G4-2: I do not understand.
G4-2: I do not understand.
R2: Well, here we do not tell you the number of....
G4-1: Is this number related to the diagonal?
G4-2: The number on the side?
G4-1: I take 83 on the side or on the diagonal and then you can count 1, 2, and
3 up to 83.
Integrating Arithmetic and Algebra in a Collaborative Learning
R2: It's interesting, you have two different strategies.
In this excerpt, trying to assimilate that which was presented to the whole
group by her teammate G4-1, G4-2 ceases to refer to the iterative process, instead
only associating the number of balls, either vertically, at the base, or on the
diagonal, and, thus, jumping from one triangular number to the next.
Once the pupils had worked in teams, R2 again requested a process of
recapitulation in a large group discussion, asking pupils how they would perform
the calculation of the triangular number T83.
Dialogue between the researcher and pupils
Pupil 1: Uh ... you have to add up all the numbers
from 1 to 80 for the triangular number of 80 ... er
from 1 to 83 for the triangular number of 83.
R2: Yes, but if you give me a number, which can
change, it can always change. What kind of
operation do I have to do?
G4-1: You added together 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 etc.,
until you arrive at your number. Ben! Then the
answer is the ... your answer is the triangular
R2: Ok. So there I would do 1 + 2 + 3 + ...
G4-1: ... 4 + 5 + 6 ...
R2: until my number.
Pupil 1: Etc, until your number. You add up all this
and it gives you your triangular number.
R2: How do I write my number I do not know?
G4-1: Question Mark!
R2: Question Mark? Do you all agree? Yes? That's
going to be my number I do not know?
G4-1: + x.
Pupil 3: Yes + x.
R2: x? Do I put something else? Yes, do I? (Point to a
Pupil 4: Any letter.
R2: Any letter, yes. There? A heart? Can we put a
G4-1: You can put anything that is not a number.
Addition of 1 + 2 + 3 + ... + 83
R2 tried to promote a
Using words, the pupils could
describe the last number "until you
arrive at your number."
R2 repeated the question, but
continued to say "until your
As there had been no change, R2
directly asked “how do I write the
number I do not know?”
Here pupils have shown that
they have mastered the situation,
suggesting several symbolisms.
Even the ! (heart) proposed by
R2 did not bother the pupils.
Fig. 7 Dialogue between R2 and the group in a plenary session
F. Hitt, C. Cortés, and M. Saboya
This extract is extremely important to the research conducted in this study.
Pupils proposed a calculation of T83 that is identical to that proposed by Team G1
for the triangular number T11 namely T83 = 1 + 2 + 3 + ... + 83. R2 tried to
verbalise the calculation in terms of a generalisation for any triangular number.
Pupils had no difficulty with this kind of process of generalisation. The symbolic
process was executed naturally, with the assignation of a variable seeming not to
disturb pupils at all. Even when the researcher proposed the use of a heart (!) as
a variable, this did not appear to disrupt the pupils in any way.
While, right up until this point, it is possible to say that pupils have been
following various processes of generalisation, the question remains as to who,
precisely, undertook this process. Throughout this process, pupils generally
seemed to show that there was consensus. How stable was the pupils' knowledge
as it emerged from a process of communication in the mathematics class? Can
these pupils retain these results in the future?
Once this part of the activity had been completed, R2 asked the pupils to
return to work in teams, suddenly announcing "I can calculate any triangular
number with three operations. Can you?" This was a question that resonated with
some pupils, as described below.
Generalisation and emergence of the concept of the variable
At this stage, pupils could use Excel in order to continue the activity. The idea of
using a single computer introduced an unanticipated variable. The owner of the
computer determined the user. For example, in Team G3, the owner of the
computer (a boy) was the only user. This reminded researchers of Hoyles’ (1988)
recommendation that attention should be paid to the constitution of a team when
mixing boys and girls in a computational setting.
Once teamwork had commenced, pupil G4-1 called R1 over, saying that his
group had formed a strategy to calculate any triangular number. He mentioned
that their strategy involved taking any triangular number, for example 101,
adding 1, dividing by two and multiplying the result by 101. R1 told them to use
another number, such as100. Then, G4-1, stating that he would add one to 100
and divide the result by two, suddenly stopped, turned to his companion (G4-2)
and asked whether it made sense to get a decimal number when dividing by two.
R1 suggested that they discuss their strategy again and use the Poly applet to
verify their results. R1 remarked that the team had used Excel to calculate the
triangular numbers up to T84 in a column and that they had the operation
(indicated in Fig. 8) in their workbook.
Integrating Arithmetic and Algebra in a Collaborative Learning
Fig. 8 Technology and paper and pencil the construction of a strategy
This is another key episode in this research. Pupils already had an algorithm
to calculate T83, which was to add 1 + 2 + 3 + ... + 83. It was G4-1who put the
iterative algorithm on the board (see Fig. 6), using it with Excel to calculate up to
T84. The hypothesis explored in this study is that, using T83 and T84, the pupil
built his new algorithm.
Fig. 9 Construction of a general strategy to calculate any triangular number
Both the design of the activity and the pupils’ processes show the possibility
of reconciling work with pencil and paper and technology. In addition, and very
importantly, the team destabilization generated by R1’s question about using an
even triangular number (T100) caused the team to reflect on that which is
expressed by the use of the letter “x” in the arithmetic operations (see Fig. 9). It
seems that pupil G4-1 had written 100 + 1 divided by two (“no matter what you
get”), in this case x, the result (x) must be multiplied by 100. Finally, the pupils
used the POLY applet to ensure that the conjecture obtained might work with
other triangular numbers.
The POLY applet is able to show a series of polygonal numbers or to give a
specific polygonal number (as in Fig. 10). Due to screen limitation problems, if a
polygonal number is too big, the applet can only provide the numeric result and
thus excludes the figure.
F. Hitt, C. Cortés, and M. Saboya
Fig. 10 Examples using POLY (series of triangular numbers and the fifth pentagonal
number, including partition into triangles if required)
Discovery of an algebraic expression for calculating any
polygonal number
The session was ending and R2 called for a plenary discussion. G4-1 asked to
present what his team had found. G4-1 exemplified their strategy with T46 and
explained their algorithm. After R2 explicitly asked him to explain how they had
discovered their strategy, he repeated the algorithm, but did not mention how the
discovery was made. It seemed that he did not understand R2’s question.
When the bell rang and R2 had finished the session, a girl’s voice, almost
drowned out by the noise made by the pupils, indicated that she would have liked
to know how the three operations could be used to calculate any triangular
number. R2 mentioned that there was no time for that explanation and that she
would show it to her later. However, as G4-1 mentioned that he knew this, R1 and
R2 asked him to write it on the blackboard, even though the entire class was on
their feet and ready to leave the classroom, whereupon G4-1 wrote the following
algebraic expression (see Fig. 11).
R2: x + 1, x ... So it is your triangular number? [Trying to interpret
what the pupil wrote]
G4-1: x is not my triangular number, it is my base number, plus one,
divided by two, it's going to give y. y times x gives the triangular
Fig. 11 Symbolising in a communication process
The researchers reacted very positively to this development at the end of this
stage of ACODESA, deciding at that time to interview G4-1 to obtain more
information about the process of constructing the algebraic expression. The
interview provided a few elements of which researchers were already aware.
While G4-1 insisted that it was through the POLY applet that he had come to
discover the formula, both pupil productions (Fig. 9) and R1’s discussion with
Integrating Arithmetic and Algebra in a Collaborative Learning
Team G4 seem to indicate that the discovery took place while working with either
Excel and pencil and paper, with Poly allowing them to check their conjecture.
Self-reflection phase without technology. What happened 45
days later?
Aware of the problem with student retention of the mathematics that they learn
and also aware, thus, that “consensus is ephemeral”, the authors decided to make
the self-reflection phase as different as possible to that which had had been
undertaken in other experiments. Also, given that a talented pupil had been
discovered in the sample, it was decided that an additional challenge would be
added to the self-reflection activity (which, while generally the same, excludes
technology) exclusively for him. So, in addition to the reconstruction process
related to triangular numbers, he was asked to work with pentagonal numbers,
something which was not dealt with in the classroom experiment.
It seems that G4-1 did not pay attention to the examples given about triangular
numbers, as he wrote that he already knew the formula to calculate any triangular
number. He applied a wrong formula and did not check his results against the
examples provided. However, and to the researchers’ surprise, in a paper and
pencil task (the use of technology is not allowed in this phase) that followed a
similar process of finding relationships among the first four examples provided
for pentagonal numbers, he constructed both the fifth pentagonal number and a
general expression that allowed him to calculate any pentagonal number.
rang ×rang +rang ×0, 5 0, 5
( )
=nombre pentagonal
Fig. 12 G4-1’s production in the self-reflection phase
The results obtained are presented below. The data was collected on an
individual basis before the teamwork and self-reflection phase 45 days later, with
only eight pupils sampled from the other phases, plus others that could not be
taken into account. Pupils 1 to 13 (the last being G4-1) were identified in order to
observe progress and setbacks.
Table 1 shows two setbacks and four advances, not counting pupil G4-1, who
used an incorrect algebraic expression to calculate the triangular numbers. The
female pupil (subject 11) followed her teammates from Team G3 passively.
F. Hitt, C. Cortés, and M. Saboya
Table 1 Results from the ACODESA self-reflection phase after 45 days.
I. Anchor
to the
II. Drawing
+ addition
drawing +
IV. Abandoning
drawing +
another strategy
triangular or
pentagonal numbers
1, 2
3, 4, 5, 6, 7
8, 9, 10, 11
45 days without technology
4, 8
1, 5, 7, 12
11, 13
While her strategies were different, she did not discuss them with her
teammates. The owner of the computer in team G3 became the leader, which
corresponds to Sela and Zaslavsky’s research (2014) with four people working
together. This male pupil, when using the computer, showed his colleagues
various things not related to the task, thus creating a situation unrelated to the
requested task. Teams G1 and G2 were more homogeneous and presented more
balanced participation, with both teams composed of girls. The computer owner
from team G4 was strongly committed to the task and adapted very quickly to the
rhythm of his colleagues, with one of the setbacks for the team posed by G4-2
(G4-3 was not present during the self-reflection phase). More careful study is
required to analyse the role of technology in sociocultural learning. In fact, this,
bearing in mind Hoyles (1988) on Girls and computers and the results reported
by Sela and Zaslavsky (2014), leads to the realisation of the importance of
creating teams consisting of a maximum of two or three subjects, and of trying to
balance the use of technology in each team.
Experiment conducted in Mexico
The experiment conducted in Mexico proceeded as follows. Once the initial
problems were resolved in order to introduce pupils to the TI-Nspire calculator,
the teacher asked the pupils to work on the first five questions individually (see
Fig. 2). Four teams with three pupils and one team with two pupils were formed,
and in which each pupil had a calculator (TI-Nspire).
Individual work
Two types of strategies emerged from the individual work one linked to the
drawings as shown in the examples, and the other to the formation of a table of
values. Again, spontaneous representations linked to functional representations
appeared in the communication process.
Integrating Arithmetic and Algebra in a Collaborative Learning
1. Adding 1 to the first
2. With 1 added to the first
range and both the line at
the base of the x and the
diagonal \ | x .
Fig. 13 Spontaneous representations used by one pupil
One team made up of Diana, Karla and Omar underwent a reconciliation of
strategies, with Diana and Karla making the calculation by counting balls from
the drawings, while Omar used a table of values. Through this strategy
integration process, Diana and Karla left their strategy and decided to use the
table of values.
The pupils’ individual productions and the film of the plenary session are the
only evidence of the individual work carried out by the subjects. A useful
research technique was that pupils were asked to write with red ink when
working in teams (see Fig. 14).
Fig. 14 Karla’s individual work and teamwork
There is no evidence of how the formula was obtained. The formula appeared
in Karla’s productions and was written in red ink during the teamwork phase.
This shows that, in her team, she adopted the table of values and proposed an
algebraic expression. At this secondary level pupils had already learned about the
notation of variables, and can clearly be seen to use the variables x and y. The
formula enables pupils to estimate the calculation of polygonal numbers. Our
hypothesis is that having used y = x2 / 2 (related to base * height / 2) and having
realised that it did not work with the examples given in the table, these pupils
F. Hitt, C. Cortés, and M. Saboya
decided to approximate the results, thus giving y = 0.52 * x2. They did not
present their proposal in the large group discussion.
A surprising result is that many Mexican pupils participating in this research
immediately associated the triangular arrangement of the triangular numbers,
base * height / 2, with the calculation of the area of a triangle, thinking that this
was the algebraic expression required.
This was the first thing that emerged during the large group presentation,
having been captured from the beginning of the pupil discussion.
Plenary discussion
Monica, facing the blackboard, gave as example the T8 (see Fig. 15), describing
the following as necessary in order to calculate it:
Monica: To calculate the area of the triangle would
require 8 times 8, giving 64, which, divided
by 2, is 32...
Another pupil: [a girl is heard addressing her
classmate in a very low voice] But no, that
would be 36!
Fig. 15 Monica presenting the calculation of T8
R3 intervened, saying that, at this point, it was necessary to review her theory.
She was then interrupted by the pupil Rob.
Rob: ... But... this, the triangular number 8 would be 36 and not 32 then it
cannot be.
R3: Please come to the blackboard Rob.
Rob: This is number 6 [pointing to the figure just produced by María]. We
apply the formula that says the base multiplied by height would be 6 by 6
giving 36 divided by 2, giving us 18, while the triangular number would
be 21. This, therefore, is not the formula [points to the base * height / 2
P1: What is the difference between ... if you apply the formula that tells you,
apply the formula. Write it there.
María: [Writes the formula].
P1: In this case, what is the basis?
Rob: [Writing] 6 * 6/2 is 18 and there is the triangular number.
P1: What is the triangular number?
Pupils: 21 [answering chorus]
Rob: The difference would be 3.
P1: The difference would be...?
Integrating Arithmetic and Algebra in a Collaborative Learning
Rob: 3.
Rob calculates the Triangular 8, and, typing the formula, obtains 32.
P1: And what is it for the triangular number 8?
Rob: It's 36.
P1: The 8?
Rob starts counting the balls for the figure that was already on the
blackboard, and says that it is 36.
Pupils: The difference is 4.
Rob realizes that the formula does not work and that he has shown a counter-
example (similar to the comment made by the unidentified girl). However, so far
he is not able to build the exact formula for triangular numbers.
EUREKA ! Rectification of the formula in a scientific debate
In the midst of the discussion, a surprised voice is heard, saying, "and from 8 it is
four, then it would be half."
Gaby: Half of 8 is 4, and 4 is what is missing from 32 to 36 in the formula,
then we have to put the base multiplied by height divided by two more....
[PAUSE] plus the half of [PAUSE] plus the half of the triangular number,
half [PAUSE] half of the base.
While speaking, Gaby paused several times while she completed the
transformation of her numerical idea into a geometric-algebraic idea. It is clear
that the control element was provided by the arithmetic relationship and the
transformation from that into a geometric relationship. However, something else
occurred in the process of communication when Gaby was verbalising what she
was thinking: there was a process of deduction. At this very moment, the pupils
were rejecting their initial conjecture in favour of a new one, using the arguments
to refute the conjecture.
P1: Write it!
Pupil: I think that we, all together, are arriving at something, not alone!
The sociocultural construction of knowledge has occurred at this stage of
scientific debate, in accordance with ACODESA. The pupil openly expresses the
co-construction generated through the debate.
Gaby goes to the blackboard to write the idea that she had just thought of.
Gaby: How do I represent half the base?
Interestingly, at this point, Gaby has difficulties in transforming the geometric
argument “half the base” into algebraic terms:
F. Hitt, C. Cortés, and M. Saboya
R3: … One half, or that in half.
Gaby writes
Many pupils worked together to undertake the final writing activity. In this
process, Gaby was guided by her colleagues because she did not fully understand
the process of algebrafying "half the base". Finally, she wrote:
P1: And how do you represent the triangular number in that formula you are
writing there? How do you represent the triangular number?
Pupils: .... The base or the height...
Gaby writes the formula
P1: Precisely, what she said, the height is the same as the...
Pupils: The base.
P1: Replace it and do not write the height.
Pupil: It would be base times base.
Gaby misspelled the formula and was corrected by her peers, after which she
P1: Ok then, base times base is what?
Pupils: Base squared.
Gaby writes finally the formula
P1: Do you think that is the formula? Verify it with the triangular number 15
Gaby: Do I have to count the balls in a drawing?
P1: No, no, no you have already got the formula!
Self-reflection phase without technology. What happened 30 days later?
This phase, referred to here as self-reflection without technology, comprised a
questionnaire (with slight modifications) similar to that completed by the
participants 30 days previously. Only 10 of the 14 pupils participated, with the
main idea at this stage being a reconstruction of what had been undertaken in the
The questionnaire for the self-reflection phase had three questions:
1st Question: Calculate the 27th triangular number.
2nd Question: Write the formula for calculating any triangular number.
3rd Question: Using your formula, calculate the 313th triangular number.
Integrating Arithmetic and Algebra in a Collaborative Learning
The results are as follows: from the ten pupils, two continued the process of
"drawing balls and counting", while four of the ten rebuilt a similar expression
related to the area of a triangle b × h / 2. A pupil was able to reconstruct the
formula, but mistook the result of calculating T27 by finding a triangular number
to provide 27 as a result, with the closest being T7 = 28. It is possible that he
made a mistake when counting the balls. He followed the same strategy when
calculating T313. Among those who were able to reconstruct the right formula
were Alejandra, Omar and Rob.
These results reveal the importance of building arithmetic-algebraic thinking in
order to support algebraic thinking. The experiment conducted in Quebec with 1st
year secondary pupils (11-12 years old) revealed the following:
• It was performed in a sociocultural environment, with a gradual construction
of the concept of the variable, and patterns built from the visual work.
• The strategy consisted of visualisation processes that related drawings,
arithmetic addition series, iterations and formulas. Pupils used natural
language with letters representing variables.
• The validation process was supported by the use of technology.
• The availability of a device on the table, shows that its use is delicate
(Hoyles 1988). In the case of one team, it was the owner of the computer
who exclusively used it. In the team with a boy and two girls, the boy
mostly used his computer, the girls used it when he was at the blackboard.
Even though there was more progress than setbacks in the self-reflection
phase, the results show that concluding that consensus had occurred should
be undertaken with caution.
The experiment conducted in Mexico with 9th grade secondary pupils (14-15
year old) revealed the following:
• It was performed around visualising a process related to the area of a
triangle, with use of variables to represent the variation (x, y, b, h).
• The validation process rested more on visual configurations.
The technology was not widely used by the pupils. Plenary discussion and
co-construction attracted the pupils’ attention.
Again, it showed that consensus is ephemeral”, with only four out of ten
able to rebuild the formula and one of them mistaking the number of the
triangular with the result.
A surprising fact is that the institutional representation n (n + 1) / 2 did not
emerge in neither of the two populations. This demonstrates the importance of
pupils’ spontaneous representations in the construction of mathematical concepts
F. Hitt, C. Cortés, and M. Saboya
(Hitt 2013; Hitt and González-Martín 2015). This reveals that evolution of
spontaneous representations is important in a signification process. During the
institutional stage under the ACODESA model, the teacher must collect different
ideas and productions and relate them to the institutional representations.
Our research is taking into account the importance made in the 40’s when
psychologists payed attention to the importance to moving from analysis of
pupils’ performances when solving puzzles to the analysis of pupils’ problem
solving activity (see Brownell 1947). Our approach, in this technological era
goes from an arithmetic context to an algebraic one, in a natural way using
technology as a tool in a process of generalization and, in a sociocultural context
of learning. In this way, pupils construct arithmetic relations (product of this is
what is shown in Fig. 9) that permit them to control their process of
generalization to an algebraic context in a milieu of creativity and autonomy (see
Fig. 12). The results are showing the importance to promote the production of
spontaneous representations and conversions among them even if they are not the
institutional representations. This contrast directly with Kirshner’s approach
(2000) concerning his ideas of exercises, probes and puzzles; and, about his
restricted approach to learning algebra focusing on the algebraic register about
visually salient rules (Kirshner 2004). Our research takes as central a task-design
where the but is related to enchained tasks, to be solved by the pupils in a
sociocultural milieu, and the teacher role is to promote students’ reflexion and
productions of spontaneous representations, not only the algebraic one.
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... Elle peut aider les apprenants à donner du sens aux objets algébriques et aux relations qu'ils entretiennent entre eux (Ferrara et al., 2006). Les outils technologiques peuvent jouer un rôle dès le primaire dans le développement d'une pensée dite «arithmético-algébrique» (Hitt, Saboya et Cortés, 2017). Hewitt (2014) décrit ainsi le logiciel Grid Algebra, au sein duquel les utilisateurs peuvent déplacer des nombres et voir apparaître les relations qui les relient. ...
... 2.1 La pensée algébrique précoce Selon Hitt, Saboya et Cortés (2017), les recherches sur la pensée algébrique se sont longtemps concentrées sur la rupture épistémologique entre arithmétique et algèbre (Vergnaud, 1988). Les travaux de Kaput (2000) sont venus poser les bases d'un nouveau paradigme, appelé Early Algebra, défendant l'idée d'une continuité plutôt que d'une rupture entre arithmétique et algèbre (Cai et Knuth, 2011;Hitt, Saboya et Cortés, 2017). Le groupe défend la possibilité de développer une pensée algébrique précoce: il ne s'agit pas de préparer les enfants du primaire à l'algèbre du secondaire, mais plutôt de réfléchir à une façon de présenter et de manipuler certains contenus mathématiques afin de faciliter la transition vers l'algèbre formelle. ...
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Le courant actuel du développement de la pensée algébrique précoce ( Early Algebra ) réfléchit à une façon de présenter, dès le primaire, les concepts mathématiques que les élèves mobiliseront plus tard en algèbre. Dans ce cadre, nous nous intéressons plus particulièrement aux possibilités offertes par les nouvelles technologies et les jeux électroniques (ici Dragon Box Numbers et Dragon Box Algebra ). Nous analysons ces jeux sous l’angle du développement de la pensée algébrique, en examinant notamment le statut qu’ils donnent à l’égalité et aux structures numériques, ainsi que sous l’angle des représentations qu’ils mettent en jeu, des traitements induits sur ces représentations et des articulations possibles avec les registres sémiotiques de l’algèbre.
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In this chapter, we are interested in the history of technological tools, in relation with the progress of theoretical frameworks that allow us to explain the phenomena linked to the learning of mathematics. We begin from the second half of last century and finally arrive to the use of tools and technologies to support modelling process in the mathematics classroom. We began with a constructivist theoretical learning approach related to representations that gave support to the technical development of technologies for teaching in the past. We emphasise the cognitive obstacles associated to the use of technologies for the learning of mathematics and the need to approach these obstacles with a new teaching method in a new theoretical sociocultural perspective to learning. We present and exemplify the ACODESA teaching method and the role of the design of chained tasks in a technological environment.KeywordsSociocultural approach of learningSTEM educationModellingHistory of technology
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L’objectif de cet article est d’offrir une analyse transversale de l’utilisation du concept de la participation parmi les chercheuses et les chercheurs du réseau PÉRISCOPE (Plateforme Échange, Recherche et Intervention sur la SCOlarité : Persévérance et réussitE), qui réfèrent à la théorie de l’activité (Engeström, 1987 ; Vygotsky, 1978). Est à l’étude l’activité d’agent·es dans un contexte donné (classe, école, communauté, etc.) à partir de la littérature scientifique proposée dans la base de données du Réseau de recherche entre 2015 et 2019. Pour dégager les usages et la compréhension des chercheur·euses du concept de participation, une analyse lexicométrique issue de la linguistique et des courants historiographiques, comme l’histoire des idées, l’histoire des concepts et l’analyse du discours, est proposée. Il en ressort que la notion d’engagement des élèves était très importante dans ce corpus, ce qui tend à renforcer l’interprétation selon laquelle l’engagement occupe une très grande place dans la notion de la participation. Aussi, les activités scientifiques du réseau PÉRISCOPE ont généré un regain d’intérêt scientifique pour certains thèmes comme la participation, le décrochage, la persévérance scolaire et les résultats scolaires. Il apparait en outre que les adolescentes et les adolescents sont particulièrement ciblés dans les études sur la participation. Finalement, les actions associées aux élèves nuancent et détaillent la compréhension des chercheur·euses en matière de participation en contexte scolaire. L’analyse des associations linguistiques et conceptuelles présentes dans la littérature scientifique de ce corpus donne des clés de compréhension de la manière dont est appréhendé le concept de la participation.
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This paper discusses mathematical task design in a collaborative environment (the ACODESA teaching method), where activities with both paper and pencil and technology play a central role in learning mathematics. The use of problem situations under a sociocultural framework in the mathematics classroom requires careful mathematical task design to develop mathematical abilities in the classroom, promote diversified thinking, and achieve balance between pencil and paper and technological activities within an activity theory framework. While the task design approach examined in this paper is general, it is exemplified through mathematics teaching tasks appropriate for secondary school entry level.
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Students' difficulties for acquiring covariation concept and using graphical representation in grade 8 – Our research concerns the conversions between the registers of representation implied at the time of the passage of a functional situation to a graph. We are interested more particularly in the perception of covariation between two magnitudes by the students in grade 8. A teaching sequence has been created in order to introduce Cartesian graph to these students and to collect spontaneous representations about covariation. Our analysis principally puts in evidence the characteristics of these representations, as well as the degree of perception of the covariation by the students. It permits us to come to certain conclusions in relation to the passage to official representation: the Cartesian graph. Résumé. Notre recherche concerne les conversions entre les registres de représentation impliquées lors du passage d'une situation fonctionnelle à un graphique. Dans ce cadre, nous nous intéressons plus particulièrement à la perception du concept de covariation entre deux grandeurs par les élèves du premier cycle du secondaire (13-14 ans). C'est par l'intermédiaire d'une séquence d'enseignement minutieusement conçue que nous avons recueilli les représentations spontanées d'élèves à propos du concept de covariation. Notre analyse met principalement en évidence les caractéristiques de ces représentations, ainsi que le degré de perception de la covariation par les élèves. Elle nous permet de tirer certaines conclusions relativement au passage à la représentation officielle : le graphique cartésien.
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Part of the research community that has followed the Early Algebra paradigm is currently delimiting the differences between arithmetic thinking and algebraic thinking. This trend could prevent new research approaches to the problem of learning algebra, hiding the importance of considering an arithmetico–algebraic thinking, a new approach which underpins the construction of a cognitive structure that links both types of thinking. This paper proposes a theoretical and practical framework for a learning approach that supports the construction of a cognitive structure which fosters arithmetico-algebraic thinking at the beginning of secondary school by means of cultural and technological activities relating to polygonal numbers.