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2002 Children Concept of Addition

2002 Children Concept of Addition

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Educational Psychology, Vol. 22, No. 5, 2002
Young Children’s Understanding of AdditionConcepts
KATHERINE H. CANOBI, ROBERT A. REEVE &PHILIPPA E. PATTISON,
The University of Melbourne, Australia
ABSTRACT
Children’s knowledge of concrete versions of additive composition, commutativityand associativity was investigated in two studies. In Study 1, 24 four- to ve-year-olds and 25 ve- to six-year-olds judged the equivalence of conceptually related addition problems presented using groups of objects. In Study 2, 45 ve- to six-year-olds judged related problemsand solved addition problems. Both studies indicated that concrete versions of principles weresalient to most children although associativity was more difcult than commutativity and therewere considerable individual differences in children’s understanding. Study 1 results indicated that schoolchildren were more accurate at recognising additive composition than preschoolersand Study 2 results suggested that commutativity knowledge was related to using advanced counting strategies for solving addition problems. Overall, the research supports the claim that examining early knowledge of addition principles provides important insights into children’semerging part–whole knowledge and mathematical development.
Introduction
The aim of the research was to explore children’s knowledge of concrete versions of addition principles in order better to understand the emergence and development of part–whole knowledge. Recognising the ways in which a whole is composed of differentparts is fundamental to number sense and underlies many relationships betweenaddition problems. For example, parts added in different orders still equal the whole,therefore a
1
b
5
b
1
a (commutativity). Principles such as additive composition, com-mutativity and associativity are fundamental properties of addition and exploring thesequence in which children learn about them is likely to shed light on the developmentof part–whole knowledge. However, despite the prominence of such principles in keytheories of mathematical development (Gelman & Gallistel, 1978; Piaget, 1952;Resnick, 1992), surprisingly little is known about how children learn about them. Forexample, some principles (such as associativity) are more complex than others (such as
ISSN 0144-3410 print; ISSN 1469-046X online/02/050513-20
Ó
2002 Taylor & Francis LtdDOI: 10.1080/0144341022000023608
 
514
K. H. Canobi 
et al.commutativity) and may be acquired later but few studies have addressed the develop-mental sequence in children’s part–whole knowledge. The lack of research into additionprinciples is especially problematic given the evidence that individual differences inchildren’s knowledge of the principles are systematically related to their skill in solvingschool addition problems (Canobi, in press; Canobi, Reeve, & Pattison, 1998). Re-search into children’s knowledge of different principles is needed in order to understandthe emergence and development of conceptual understanding in addition.Because the addition principles vary in complexity, they provide a useful frameworkfor investigating different forms of part–whole knowledge. Additive composition is theprinciple that larger sets are made up of smaller sets. Commutativity is the principlethat problems containing the same sets in a different order have the same answer,a
1
b
5
b
1
a. Associativity is the principle that problems in which sets are decomposed,and recombined in different orders, have the same answer, (a
1
b)
1
c
5
a
1
(b
1
c).It seems likely that knowledge of addition principles emerges through noticingregularities in the ways in which physical objects can be combined. For example, theprocess of combining sets is commutative in the sense that the order in which groupsof objects are combined is irrelevant to the total number of objects in the combined set.An appreciation of principle-based regularities in interactions with sets of objects isviewed as important to conceptual development (Gelman & Gallistel, 1978; Piaget,1952; Resnick, 1992). For instance, Resnick (1986, 1992, 1994) argues that concep-tual development occurs as children map new forms of understanding onto an initially“protoquantitative” part–whole schema. Specically, children may initially understandcommutativity and associativity in terms of how physical objects can be joined togetherand a crucial development occurs when counting knowledge is combined with thepart–whole schema so that children can reason using equations such as 2 apples
1
3apples
5
3 apples
1
2 apples. Resnick argues that, at a later stage, children begin toreason with numbers independently of their referential context (2
1
3
5
3
1
2) beforeunderstanding the principles as abstract rules (a
1
b
5
b
1
a). The claim that childrenrst learn about addition principles in the context of physical objects (Gelman &Gallistel, 1978; Resnick, 1992) has important theoretical and educational implicationsand further research is needed to specify changes in children’s understanding of concrete versions of part–whole concepts.Because the addition principles are likely to be important to children’s conceptualunderstanding, it is of interest to explore the sequence or sequences in which childrenlearn about them. However, not all researchers suggest a separation of additionprinciples in children’s representations. For example, Resnick (1992, 1994) claims thatassociativity and commutativity are not distinct in children’s understanding, citing alongitudinal study of Pitt, a seven-year-old who regarded commutativity and associativ-ity as self-evident permissions rooted in additive composition. However, although Pittmay have come to recognise the interdependency of the principles, it is possible that hecame to appreciate the principles at different stages. Moreover, there is some evidencethat commutativity may be acquired before associativity (Canobi et al., 1998; Close &Murtagh, 1986; Langford, 1981). For example, Close and Murtagh (1986) found thatchildren correctly solved more written problems designed to reect commutativity thanassociativity, but this difference may have been associated with the computationalrather than conceptual demands involved in solving three-addend problems. Canobi etal. (1998) measured conceptual knowledge separately from problem solving and foundthat children were more successful at recognising and explaining the relationshipbetween commuted problems than those depicting aspects of additive composition and
 
Children’s Understanding of Addition Concepts
515associativity. However, the ndings of both studies pertain to symbolically presentedproblems (2
1
3
5
3
1
2) and it is unclear how the results apply to children’s reasoningabout physical objects. Langford (1981) investigated concrete versions of the principlesin a longitudinal study in which children’s responses to an interviewer’s descriptions of actions on covered boxes of beans suggested that knowledge of commutativity precedesassociativity. However, in this study, children needed to remember the interviewer’sdescriptions in order to respond correctly and associativity items involved more sets(and longer descriptions) than commutativity items. Therefore, further research intothe comparative difculty of recognising various addition principles in the context of physical objects is needed. Such research should control for possible confoundingfactors such as a reliance on verbal instructions and the potential use of computationprocedures on tasks designed to measure conceptual understanding.A further interpretive difculty with previous research is that it is unclear whychildren nd associativity [(a
1
b)
1
c
5
a
1
(b
1
c)] comparatively difcult. For exam-ple, Langford’s (1981) associativity task was the same as his commutativity task, exceptthat it involved three boxes of beans instead of two. Presented symbolically, Langford’sassociativity task may have been more closely analogous to the equationa
1
b
1
c
5
b
1
c
1
a than to the equation (a
1
b)
1
c
5
a
1
(b
1
c). However, in order toassess associativity understanding, it is necessary to assess knowledge of decomposingand recombining sets. For instance, Resnick and Omanson (1987) reported an exampleof associativity knowledge among school children who solved problems such as 23
1
8by decomposing 23 into 20
1
3 then reconguring the problem into (20
1
8)
1
3(Resnick, 1992). In this example, children decomposed one addend and then recom-bined the resulting numbers in a new order. This reects aspects of the principle notassessed by Langford. Canobi et al. (1998) examined problem relationships of the form(a
1
b)
1
c
5
a
1
b
1
c and a
1
b
1
c
5
a
1
(b
1
c), thereby assessing aspects of associa-tivity related to additive composition but not the complete principle. Therefore, the roleof knowledge about three rather than two sets as well as the composition and orderingof sets in part–whole development is unclear.Children’s responses to these mathematical principles may allow the identication of proles of part–whole knowledge. In support, Canobi et al. (1998) found that a keyaspect of individual differences in conceptual knowledge was a tendency for children to1. understand both commutativity and associativity type relations2. understand only commutativity type relations or3. understand neither form of relationIdentifying the mathematical relationships that children understand is consistent withcalls for investigations of knowledge proles across mathematical tasks (Bisanz &Lefevre, 1992; Sophian, 1997) and claims that greater attention should be paid toindividual differences in children’s mathematics (Dowker 1998, Pellegrino & Goldman,1989; Siegler, 1987, 1996; Widaman & Little, 1992).In addition to helping explain individual differences in children’s addition, examiningchildren’s emerging knowledge of addition principles has the potential to shed light onthe connections children make between informal knowledge and school mathematics.In particular, it may be useful to compare the addition concepts of children who havenot yet entered school with those who have begun to learn school mathematics. A studyby Canobi et al. (1998) suggests that the accuracy of 6- to 8-year-olds’ explanations of problem relationships based on additive composition, commutativity and associativity

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