DAVID SLAVIT
THE ROLE OF OPERATION SENSE IN TRANSITIONS FROM ARITHMETIC TO ALGEBRAIC THOUGHT ^{}
ABSTRACT. As attention to the development of algebraic understandings at early grade levels increases, theory and empirical support for these efforts are needed. This paper outlines a theoretical perspective for studying student understandings of mathematical operations, with a particular focus on addition. The notion of operation sense is deﬁned using a perspective that incorporates the construction of mental objects. In the context of addition, it is argued that operation sense can be used to describe student development of additive concepts as well as transitions into algebraic ways of thinking. The report of a case study on the development of a young boy is then provided. The investigation attempts to instantiate the framework in regard to student development of an understanding of addition. Evidence was found that his attainment of aspects of operation sense supported transitions into algebraic ways of thinking, including a ﬁnite group setting and use of addition on unknown and arbitrary quantities. Limitations of the framework are discussed.
1. INTRODUCTION
The purpose of this paper is to present and investigate a theoretical per spective on the development of understandings of mathematical opera tions. The theoretical framework deﬁnes operation sense, with a particular focus on addition. Areas of algebraic understanding that frame the invest igation and emerge from an operation sense of addition are identiﬁed. To demonstrate the viability of this analysis and to identify kernels of algeb raic thought that may be present as numeric and arithmetic understandings develop, I present data involving one child’s beginning addition strategies during his ﬁrst and fourth grade year (ages 6 and 9), and interpret these data from this perspective. Evidence is accumulating to suggest that six and sevenyear old stu dents can value alternate problem solving strategies and opportunities to communicate their thinking (Fuson et al., 1997; Franke and Carey, 1997). In addition, early elementary school students are capable of making sense
^{} Portions of this study were presented at the 17th Annual Meeting of the North Amer ican Chapter of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education, Columbus, Ohio, October, 1995
Educational Studies in Mathematics 37: 251–274, 1999. © 1999 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlans.
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of advanced notions of arithmetic that transcend into algebraic realms (Kaput, in press). Kaput (1995), in a call for an earlier introduction of algebra in current curricula, describes one important aspect of algebraic thought:
Acts of generalization and abstraction give rise to formalisms that support syntactic com putations that, in turn, can be examined for structures of their own, usually based in
These structures seem to have three purposes, (1) to enrich
understandings of the systems they are abstracted from, (2) to provide intrinsically useful structures for computations freed of the particulars that they were once tied to, and (3) to provide the base for yet higher levels of abstraction and formalization (p. 77).
their concrete origins
Various aspects of algebraic understanding at higher grade levels have been previously identiﬁed, including actionoriented, processoriented, and ob jectoriented understandings (Briedenbach et al., 1992; Confrey and Smith, 1995; Thompson, 1994; Slavit, 1997a). Although algebra at early grade levels is also multidimensional (Kaput, 1995), for the purposes of this paper, early algebraic competence will be primarily restricted to the cognit ive processes and actions associated with abstracting computation to more structural realms, commonly referred to as generalized arithmetic. These understandings are encapsulated in the above discussion by Kaput and can be manifested by the manipulation of algebraic symbols and equations. Descriptions of the nature of this abstraction and structure are provided below.
Mental objects
Numerous theories have been offered on the nature of mental objects in mathematics (Davis, 1984; Vergnaud, 1988; Cobb et al., 1992; Fuson et al., 1997). The transitioning from action to objectoriented understandings present in the theory of reiﬁcation can be related to an investigation of the manner in which acts of computation are abstracted to more structural realms. Sfard and Linchevski (1994) describe reiﬁcation:
The ability to perceive mathematics in this dual way (as an action and as an object) makes the universe of abstract ideas into the image of the material world: like in real life, the actions performed here have their ‘raw materials’ and their products in the form of entities that are treated as genuine, permanent objects. Unlike in real life, however, a closer look at these entities will reveal that they cannot be separated from the processes themselves as selfsustained beings. Such abstract objects like ^{√} −1, −2, or the function 3(x + 5) + 1 are the results of a different way of looking on the procedures of extracting the square root from −1, of subtracting 2, and of mapping the real numbers onto themselves through a linear transformation, respectively. Thus, mathematical objects are an outcome of reiﬁcation – of our mind’s eye’s ability to envision the result of processes as permanent entities in their own right (pp. 193–194).
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Children often perform additive tasks using various counting methods, but eventually are able to reﬁne this technique towards more efﬁcient methods (Fuson, 1992a). The task of adding 5 + 3 could initially be performed by counting out a set of 5, and then a set of 3, joining these sets, and counting the result. Counting up allows the child to start from 5. This action signiﬁes that the reiﬁcation stage is beginning since the number 5 no longer needs to be veriﬁed through the process of counting. Eventually, children can understand that 5 + 3 = 8 without any immediate reference to modelling actions. This development provides an example of the building of a chain in what could be termed the ‘reiﬁcation cycle’. Once a process is reiﬁed to the degree that it can itself be thought of as a mathematical object, then a second operation can be used on this newlyconceived object, which can later become reiﬁed itself. The reiﬁcation cycle can be a nice tool in analyzing the longterm development of mathematical understanding. However, caution must be exercised in that reiﬁcation is not a dichotomous variable (Schoenfeld et al., 1993; Sfard and Linchevski, 1994) and learning for understanding is not a totallyordered process (Kieren and Pirie, 1991; Hiebert et al., 1996). Mathematical objects in this sense must be described in light of the motivations for use and meaningmaking activities of the student involved (Fuson et al., 1997; Slavit, 1997b). In other words, reiﬁc ation can only occur as a consequence of student knowledge construction, and the results of reiﬁcation only ‘exist’ in the context of the student’s existing conceptual structure.
Operation sense
The notion of mental objects will be used to help explicate the following discussion of operation sense. According to Piaget (1964), an operation is the ‘essence of knowledge’ that is central in developing structural under standings. This perspective will be used in arguing for the importance of operation sense in curricula and in discussing what operation sense entails. Because I am interested in student understanding, and not just problem solving behaviors, as well as how operation sense might be used to discuss algebraic understanding, I have attempted to develop a theoretical basis that would be: 1) useful in discussing mathematical operations in general; 2) useful in exploring student understandings of addition; and 3) useful in understanding how children’s early competencies in arithmetic can be seen as roots of later algebraic forms of thought. I am deﬁning operation sense in an effort to satisfy these requirements. A base deﬁnition of operation sense could involve the ability to use the operation on at least one set of mathematical objects (such as the ability
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to add positive integers). But this is clearly a minimal conceptualization. With this in mind, I maintain that operation sense involves various kinds of ﬂexible conceptions which can be interrelated by the learner. These conceptions involve the operation’s underlying structure, use, relationships with other mathematical operations and structures, and potential gener alizations. Such characterizations include the establishment of properties that the operation possesses (Briars and Larkin, 1984), various forms and contexts in which the operation could exist (Carpenter, 1985), and how the operation relates to other processes (Fuson, 1992b). An awareness of these characterizations can delineate features of the operation and lead to varying degrees of operation sense. Speciﬁcally, the following ten aspects help to clarify the meaning of op eration sense. While much more could be written about each, the descrip tions below provide an adequate picture of the overall notion of operation sense. 1. A conceptualization of the base components of the process. This aspect involves an ability to break down the operation into its base com ponents. Examples include addition as counting, multiplication as repeated addition, functions as coordinatebycoordinate mapping over two or more sets, and derivation as a limiting process. Note that this begins as a dynamic understanding where the operation is initially thought of as an action. 2. Familiarity with properties which the operation is able to possess. Of fundamental importance to the development of operation sense is a general awareness of the group properties of the operation (if they exist). Of these, perhaps of primary importance is an awareness of the ability to reverse the operation (invertibility). The act of ‘undoing’ provides a map back to the beginning and, in time, can help make clear the general result of the original process (Wenger, 1987). Other properties, such as commutativity, associativity, and the existence of an identity, may or may not be character istic of a given operation, but in either case they help to clarify its general nature. This type of familiarity with properties of operations is supported by experience with a variety of different mathematical operations acting on different mathematical objects (Riley et al., 1983). For example, an aware ness of the commutative property in a mathematical context is usually obtained at an early age through additive experiences, but it may not be fully appreciated until one also learns subtraction, for which commutativ ity fails. One consequence of such an understanding of operation properties could be the promotion of ﬂexibility in thinking generally about computa tion. For the case of addition, it will be argued that this can lead to algebraic ways of thinking.
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3. Relationships with other operations. In addition to the relationships an operation has with its inverse, the distributive property in any ﬁeld provides a means of connecting two operations, such as addition and multi plication. However, operations can be related in other ways besides the dis tributive property. Multiplication is often initially understood as repeated addition, and division as repeated subtraction. Function composition relates two or more sets of individual inputoutput pairs. A triangle is the result of drawing three lines that uniquely intersect pairwise and taking intersec tions to form the vertices and sides. More advanced examples include the integration of a function and ﬁnding the limit of a sequence of functions. Seeing the interplay between the operations in each of the above examples can help to enhance one’s awareness of each individual operation. 4. Facility with the various symbol systems associated with the opera tion. Arcavi (1994), in the context of algebra, has deﬁned ‘symbol sense’ as a list of understandings, feelings, and abilities that allow one to quickly and instinctively act on a given symbol system. Before this kind of fa cility with an operation’s symbols can be achieved, connections must be established between the symbols and the underlying meanings associated with the operation and the objects on which the operation acts (Hiebert, 1988). When an operation can be symbolized in more than one fashion, the cognitive load is increased. For example, multiplication is commonly expressed using each of the following symbols: x, ·, ( ). Further, operation properties such as inverse can be misconstrued due to notations. One could wonder if there was ever a student who did not misinterpret the symbols f ^{−}^{1} (x) upon his or her initial encounter. The failure to develop a user friendly symbol system for geometric transformations may be one reason for their marginalization in many curricula. Constructivist perspectives and teaching experiments are beginning to look at instances in which children’s invented symbol systems can lead to the establishment of aspects of operation sense. Steffe and Olive (1996) describe a computer environment in which two tenyearold children were able to create their own notations for arithmetic operations out of a parti tioning activity. The resulting ‘symbolic operational activity’ both afforded and restricted their ability to develop sense of the act of partitioning. What is important about this experiment is that ‘the mental operations involved in the experiential abstraction were symbolic in nature, which is a crucial element in transforming sensorymotor action into symbolic action’. Two limitations of this environment relate to previously discussed aspects of operation sense. First, the children had difﬁculty identifying a unit struc ture in the operation in the context of their symbolic operational activity, which suggests that the operation was yet to be completely understood in
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terms of its base processes in their symbolic environment. Steffe and Olive state:
The children experienced difﬁculty in using the results of symbolized partitioning oper
ations as material of further operations
Joe’s counting activity as necessary because they needed to actually carry through with partitioning operations that were only symbolized in order to produce a unit structure that they could use as input in further operations (p. 129).
We interpret Melissa’s drawing activity and
Second, the children showed difﬁculty in reversing the partitioning actions
in their symbolic environment due to inadequacies in their understand
ing of the symbol systems in the context of mental activity. Steffe and
Olive’s examples provide detailed insight into the nature of the relation ships between symbols and mental objects that are necessary in construct ing operation sense.
5. Familiarity with operation contexts. Experience with different con
texts of the operation can provide various perspectives on which a student can develop sense about that operation. For example, using join, compare, and partwhole situations has been shown to be useful in the development
of operation sense of addition (Carpenter, 1985). More recently, the act of
splitting has been shown to provide avenues for understanding aspects of multiplication (Confrey and Smith, 1995). Since it is generally agreed that
transfer is a normally occurring activity, at least to some degree (Hiebert and Carpenter, 1992), increasing the number of lenses a student can use
to ‘see’ an operation will enhance that student’s ability of identifying its
use in more general contexts. However, we must remember to distinguish
between knowledge of situational contexts (e.g., joining) and knowledge
of a mathematical operation (e.g., addition). ^{1} Students must make this
knowledge explicit in the context of the operation in order for operation sense to be advanced.
6. Familiarity with operation facts. Knowledge of certain operation
facts has been shown to enable more advanced approaches to a given task.
For example, operation facts of addition could lead to the following inven
ted strategy: 
7 + 8 = 15 since 8 = 3 + 5, so 7 + 8 = 7 + 3 + 5 = 10 + 5 = 
15. 
7. Ability to use the operation without concrete or situational referents.
A student who can perform an operation on abstract numeric values or
other mental objects clearly has an advanced sense of the use of that op eration. For example, the student who can add numbers without concrete referents has the ability to perform the operation through internal mechan isms. When this is accomplished through the use of an operation fact, then not much can be said about the level of student understanding beyond this isolated piece of information. But when the student uses invented strategies
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in conjunction with base processes on mental objects, then the operation is being performed in the context of the operation. Carraher et al. (1988) describe a child’s strategy of making change for
a purchase of CR$80 with a CR$500 bill:
Child: Eighty, ninety, one hundred, four hundred and twenty.
This addon strategy was not used in favor of an incorrectly applied al gorithm when encountering this same problem in a different context: 420+ 80 =?. One explanation is that this child has not yet made the necessary abstractions to transfer his knowledge in the experientiallybased setting
to a task that demands the use of mathematical operations on numbers. A student who has this ability may perform the give computation by adding 42 + 8, realize that these values represent sets of ten, and obtain an answer of 500. In any case, if the student is able to comprehend the mathematical meaning of the operation when only abstract numeric values are used, then the student is exhibiting an understanding of the operation beyond concrete and situational referents. These understandings are often manifested in the creation and use of heuristics. 8. Ability to use the operation on unknown or arbitrary inputs. Perhaps
a higher level of operation sense is exhibited when the student is enacting his or her understandings of the operation on quantities that are unknown or arbitrary. Not only does this involve the use of the operation without immediate concrete referents, but it also illustrates an ability to use the operation without speciﬁc objects being signiﬁed by the input referents. Instead, the objects pertaining to the input referents are understood to be an unknown or arbitrary part of the operation or operational aspect under consideration. This requires acts of generalization and places the primary focus on the operation itself. The previously discussed aspects of operation sense, particularly fa miliarity with properties and symbol systems, are crucial in allowing one to develop an ability to operate on arbitrary inputs. Not only must the operation be understood independent of actions on speciﬁc inputs, an un derstanding of the structure of the operation must be used. This structural understanding would involve facility with a symbol system that illustrates
a general operational act as well as solid understandings of the relevant
properties of the operation. Examples of using an operation on arbitrary inputs include combining like terms of a polynomial expression and ﬁnd ing the angle measure of one interior angle of an ngon. This aspect of operation sense is often needed in mathematical justiﬁcations that require an examination of an arbitrary case. Because algebra as generalized arith metic can be viewed as arithmetic on arbitrary inputs, this aspect will be discussed in greater detail in the following section.
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9. An ability to relate the use of the operation across different math ematical objects. A student experienced at using an operation on differ ent mathematical objects (and symbol systems) can create various action object schema involving the same operation. For example, addition on con crete manipulatives such as BaseTen blocks, integers, fractions, decimals, variable expressions (symbolic functions), graphs (graphic functions), vec tors, and sequences all share a fundamental relationship in regard to the process, even though the mathematical objects are very different. The abil ity to see the fundamental similarities with respect to the operation across actionobject systems illustrates a signiﬁcant amount of operation sense. 10. An ability to move back and forth between the above conceptions. Operation sense involves an understanding of various components and properties of an operation. Flexibility in these understandings allows for an ability to move across this conceptual web. It is in seeing the operation through the above lenses, either separately or simultaneously, that one is making the most use of his or her operation sense. A speciﬁc example of this ﬂexibility will be discussed later in the context of algebraic thinking.
Discussion
The previous discussion of operation sense is a broad attempt at isol ating speciﬁc contextual, symbolic, and mathematical characteristics of operations that can support cognitive development and sense of a given operation. Although the framework may be ﬂawed in that it does not accur ately describe aspects of operation sense for any conceivable mathematical operation, it does provide a framework for discussing several common mathematical operations, including the focus of this particular discussion (addition). In addition, I make the same caveats as Arcavi (1994) when he described his notion of ‘symbol sense’; the above list should not be considered exhaustive, and there is much more to operation sense than a list, no matter how exhaustive it may be.
2. OPERATION SENSE OF ADDITION
The above discussion of operation sense can be used as a framework to investigate student understandings of addition and to observe the origins of algebraic thinking in children’s developing proﬁciencies in arithmetic. Other attempts at describing connections between arithmetic and algeb raic thinking have been previously made. For example, Filloy and Rojano (1989) investigated how the occurrence of more than one variable in a lin ear equation solving situation led to a division among students at different
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levels of algebraic thinking, a phenomenon they referred to as the ‘algeb raic divide’. Working with middle and high school students, Herscovics and Linchevski (1994) and Lee and Wheeler (1989) both reported serious gaps in students’ coordination between arithmetic and algebraic frames of mind on similar kinds of tasks. The following application of operation sense to this discussion takes the perspective that environments which facilitate cognitive processes as sociated with generalizing arithmetic make use of particular aspects of the associated arithmetic operations. A collective sense of these aspects from the foundation of algebraic thinking of this kind. The previous discussion of operation sense was somewhat general by necessity, and not all aspects will be relevant to all operational contexts. The following discussion of how an operation sense of addition can be used to discuss early algebraic competence in regard to generalized arithmetic will involve Aspects 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8 and 10. Because of the relationships that exist between these aspects, some will be discussed in tandem, and all will be collectively discussed in the ﬁnal section.
Aspect 1: A conceptualization of the base components of the process
Connections between addition and counting as its base process, when count ing has been reiﬁed, can correspondingly enrich the meaning of the process of addition. The reiﬁcation of counting leads to the notion of number as a permanent object, although this development occurs over various stages and, quite often, a long period of time (Fuson, 1992b; Fuson et al., 1997). Most students begin with sequential understandings of number words that eventually become differentiated and paired with objects. Pieces of the chain are then isolated and embedded within other pieces, establishing a ‘bidirectional chain’. Fuson (1992b) calls complete understandings of the latter ‘truly numeric counting’. If counting is reiﬁed and number is understood as a mathematical ob ject, then the actions involved in completing an addition task can be per formed on objectoriented inputs, rather than inputs which are themselves viewed as actions. Once this development has occurred to a sufﬁcient degree the operation of addition can begin to be thought of as a math ematical object itself. This would seem to signify the beginning stages in the development of a generalized understanding of addition. Steffe and Olive (1996) state that ‘a numerical concept minimally includes the oper ations involved in producing a sequence of units, uniting the units of the sequence together into a composite unit, and decomposing this compos ite unit into its constituent parts’. Perhaps an ‘algebraic concept’, in re
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gard to generalized arithmetic, minimally includes these same operational understandings, only on an arbitrary unit.
Aspects 2 and 3: Familiarity with properties and relatinoships with other operations
Briars and Larkin (1984) present a model of problem solving in the context of addition that highlights operation properties. For example, commutativ ity can be used to change a startunknown additive task (_ + b = c) into a less difﬁcult task (b + _ = c). Reversibility, or inverse, can allow the same task to be changed into a subtraction task (c − b = _). Not only do these lead to advanced problem solving behaviors, but, from the perspective of operation sense, these actions illustrate roots of algebraic thought along two dimensions. First, understandings of the properties of addition are used to obtain a more general sense of the operation as an object possessing various properties, thereby leading to a more generalized view of computation. Second, these problemsolving behaviors eventually involve acts of computation that are independent of speciﬁc input values. By using a generalized sense of the operation of addition to view the task from an alternate standpoint, the student is no longer acting only on the inputs of the operation, but is also acting on the operation itself. The ability to understand and make use of the properties of addition in these ways are vital when encountering symbolic algebra in additive contexts. More importantly, from the perspective of operation sense, these two dimensions illustrate that very young children commonly work in algebraic domains when encountering arithmetic tasks.
Aspect 4: Facility with various symbol systems
Children’s facility with an appropriate symbol system is critical in enacting the generalizations just described relative to the use of additive properties. Although this has been accomplished using standard algebraic notations, with and without meaning (e.g., Matz, 1980; Filloy and Rojano, 1989; Kieran, 1992), children have been shown to make arithmetic generaliz ations using a variety of symbol systems (Thompson, 1992; Steffe and Olive, 1996). As the discussion of the work of Steffe and Olive illustrates, it is critical that generalizations of the operation be made in the context of symbolic activity, and not just sensorymotor activity. In order for the operation of addition to be generalized to arbitrary inputs, student understanding must be constituted in symbolic operational activity. This involves at least the following: 1) the input must be understood as a mental object, and 2) a knowledge of an appropriate symbol system must be achieved that allows
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for the ability to act on the operation itself. We will discuss how this is manifested in speciﬁc uses of addition on arbitrary inputs in the next section.
Aspect 7: Ability to use the operation without concrete or situational referents
Because generalized arithmetic is, in large part, arithmetic statements about the arbitrary case, Aspects 7 and 8 of operation sense of addition are cru cial in developing this kind of algebraic thinking. The ability to utilize the operation of addition on an abstract symbol system devoid of con text and concrete representations provides a transition between addition on known values with concrete representations to addition on unknown or arbitrary quantities with more symbolic representations. Hence, addi tion without concrete or situational referents does not necessarily involve actions on unknown or arbitrary quantities, but it does place the compu tational arena entirely within a mathematical domain and symbol system. When the quantitative amounts involved are themselves unknown the level of abstractness rises. This can force additional computational demands, which are discussed next.
Aspect 8: Ability to use the operation on unknown or arbitrary quantities
Resnick (1992) has identiﬁed four types of reasoning that can lead to the development of operation sense of addition. The ﬁrst involves children’s use of addition on informal qualitative amounts, or ‘protoquantities’, often accompanied by words such as ‘big’, ‘much’, and ‘more’. The next level of reasoning occurs when these activities are performed on known quantities. The third level of reasoning occurs when the student has the ability to reason on speciﬁc numbers rather than on physical quantities. The fourth level of reasoning incorporates the ‘mathematics of operators’ (Resnick, 1992) and deals with structural properties of addition. This level involves the ability to not only reason about numbers as mathematical objects, but to also reason about the operations that act on numbers as mathematical objects in their own right. If algebraic reasoning is deﬁned in terms of being able to generalize arithmetic processes, then this level of operation sense is a benchmark in that development. Not only can the operation be used without an immediate signiﬁer of quantity, but it can also be mentally manipulated without reference to any ﬁxed amounts. Realizing that any two numbers can be added in any order illustrates this level of development. However, a more complex level of development associated with this kind of reasoning involves the ability to reason about unknown but welldeﬁned numeric values. For example, consider the man
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ner in which a student could solve the classic handshake problem, which involves ﬁnding the number of handshakes that occur in a room where n people shake hands with every other person exactly once. A solution could involve several different operations on several different mathematical ob jects. Deciding that all n people must shake hands with the other n − 1 people, and then dividing by 2 to avoid duplicating handshakes, is a very common method. The objects are contextually handshakes, but are rep
resented as abstract quantities by the position of the people shaking hands. The operations are multiplication (repeated addition) followed by division.
Oftentimes, students will invent notations, such as AB, AC, AD,
to represent handshakes and then systematically add the total number of
+ (n − 1) as a solution. This
concrete notation lends familiarity to the situation and eases the burden of operating on abstract objects, such as ‘handshakes’. It also places a degree of certainty on the number of objects being operated on, although the exact amounts are still not known; the operations are acting on numeric values that are not ﬁxed. Implicit in this analysis is an awareness of various properties of the operation, such as commutativity. An example provided by Underwood and Yackel (1998) provides a much richer context for discussing this level of development. Using a candy factory context, they asked elementary students arithmetic tasks in which the number of candies in a given roll was both unknown and arbitrary. An example of such a task would be ‘If I have 3 rolls of candy and another roll missing 2 pieces, and my friend has 4 rolls and 5 extra pieces, how much more candy does my friend have?’ The students were in an arithmetic situation, but were being asked to act on quantities that were arbitrary. Underwood and Yackel created a symbol system that depicted an incomplete roll of candy that facilitated students’ work on these tasks.
ordered pairs, obtaining 1 + 2 + 3 +
, AN,
Because the amount of candy in a roll is arbitrary, a deep level of operation sense is required to approach this task. In essence, the task is similar to the baseten task 45–38, only the number of possible values in the ten’s column is arbitrary, problematizing the operations on the one’s place. In summary, Aspects 7 and 8 identify three important uses of the oper ation of addition without the use of situational or concrete referents. The ﬁrst involves the ability to perform computation, in a nonrote way, without reliance on physical objects. This could involve exclusive use of numbers
(8 + 4 = 8 + 2 + 2 = 10 + 2 = 12) or also incorporate
(8 + 4 = 8 + 2 + 2 = 10 + 2 =
base processes The second in
volves uses of the operation on numeric values that are ﬁnite and partially or welldeﬁned. The third involves the ability to bring to bear ﬂexible un derstandings of an operation on numeric values that are arbitrary. The latter
10 + 1 + 1 = 11 + 1 = 12).
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two uses resemble the perspective discussed by Resnick (1992) in that the operation is raised to noun status. Further, the complexities inherent in the use of symbols and properties associated with the operation of addition on arbitrary values go beyond the construction of a mental object associated with the operation. These complexities incorporate understandings and ac tions that are critical in discriminating arithmetic thinking from algebraic thinking.
Aspect 10: Ability to move back and forth between the above conceptions
Very young children can utilize their counting abilities to investigate and understand the idea of commutativity. Students can also develop an ability to use an operation without concrete referents from a series of contextual experiences and knowledge of operation facts (Baroody and Ginsburg, 1983; Vergnaud, 1982). Therefore, aspects of operation sense can elicit the development of others. However, a richer forum for illustrating the power of operation sense involves the manner in which it can be utilized and displayed once such a development has occurred. For example, one can use the above facets of an operation sense of addition to manipulate algebraic symbols or, at a higher level, investigate number theory prob lems involving an operation sense of division. The above discussion of the handshake problem provides a speciﬁc example of a problem solution in which several aspects of operation sense are present. Further examples of relationships between the various aspects of operation sense are provided in a case study discussion of an elementary school student.
Discussion
The previous discussion is not an attempt to clearly deﬁne ‘what is algebra’ or even ‘what is generalized arithmetic’. Rather, the purpose is to provide a framework for discussing how young children’s actions with addition can be used to identify more general understandings that represent roots of algebraic competence. The following discussion of a case study, which is part of a larger project (Slavit, in preparation), illustrates how this perspect ive can be used to chart this kind of development at the early elementary level.
3. CASE STUDY
To illustrate how the framework can be enacted, a case study from an in vestigation into early algebraic thought will be presented. The brief discus
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sion is only intended to provide a snapshot of the development of ‘Mike’ between ﬁrst and fourth grade (ages 6 and 9). Over the course of 5 interviews during his ﬁrst grade year, Mike worked a series of tasks designed to measure aspects of operation sense. Among these were 20 standard action addition tasks, most of which involved single digit values. The placement of the unknown in these tasks was distributed evenly. The tasks were read, and uniﬁx cubes and paper and pencil were provided. Mike was successful on 16 of the 20 tasks. More importantly, Mike worked all but four of the tasks without the use of concrete mater ials of any kind, and he made frequent use of heuristics in his solutions. For example, Mike displayed an ability to addonfromlarger during the second interview:
DS: Mike has 3 blocks, and does Mike have a brother? Mike: Yeah. DS: Ok, Mike has 3 blocks, and his brother gives him 5 more blocks for Christmas, so how many does he have altogether? Mike: (reaches for blocks, then pulls back) I can do that without. DS: Can you do that without? Mike: Um, he would have 8. DS: Ok, can you write your answer down for me. How did you do, did you just know that or did you have to think about that? Mike: I had to think about that. DS: Ok, what did you think about? Mike: (p) DS: I mean did you count them or what did you do? Mike: I started with the ﬁrst number that was larger and I added the lowest number with it. DS: Oh, ok, so you went 5 and then 3? Mike: (writes ‘= 8’)
Other kinds of tasks were also given to chart the presence of speciﬁc as pects of operation sense. Mike exhibited facility with and knowledge of additive properties, showing awareness and understanding on all 4 com mutativity tasks and 3 of the 4 identity tasks. During the ﬁrst interview, Mike was already showing signs of operation sense of addition, as evid enced by his use of commutativity in the following discussion:
DS:
Mike: (counts) 6.
DS:
Mike: 8.
DS:
Mike: Because 6 plus 2 is 8.
DS:
How many do we have there?
6, ok. What if I were to give you that many (2) more, how many would we have?
You did that quick. How do you know 8?
Ok, how do you know 6 plus 2 is 8?
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Mike: Uh, I memorized it. DS: Ok, ok, that’s good. Let me give you one more like that. Ok, not that many that time. What is that, just 2? Mike: Yeah (looking at the blocks). DS: Ok, what if I give you, whoops, dropped one. What if I give you this many (6) more, how many do you have? Mike: (immediately) 8. DS: How’d you get that? Mike: Uh, because it’s still 6 plus 2 is 8.
Mike’s use of facts, heuristics, and additive properties allowed him to act on the operation, rather than the inputs, to successfully complete several of the tasks. These abilities allowed Mike to develop additional aspects of operation sense of addition. For example, Mike was able to successfully apply his understandings to a repeated addition situation involving pairs of shoes. However, during the third interview when the numbers were larger, Mike showed a bit of confusion:
DS:
Mike: 12.
DS:
Mike: (p) uh 44.
DS:
Mike: Because you get 40, and you add those extra 40, those ones, and you add the 40, the ones together equal 44.
DS:
Mike: Yeah.
DS:
Mike: Ok, that owuld be 46.
DS:
Mike: Because if I had extra two, and I had four of them, then it would be 4, 5, 6, the 2.
However, Mike did show an ability to think ﬂexibly about the operation of addition with twodigit numbers. The following dialogue, during the third interview, relates to a task that compares the values of 13+5 and 10+3+5:
Do you know how many eggs are in a dozen eggs?
Ok, how many eggs owuld be in 4 dozen eggs?
How did you get 44?
Ok, but there’s twelve in a dozen, right?
So, after how many more than 10 is 12 (p) wouldn’t there be 2 extras?
46. How did you get 46?
DS: Ok, now this is 10 + 3 + 5 and 13 + 5 (pointing to paper). Mike: So, add these together? DS: Well, you could do it, but which do you think would be the biggest, or would they be the same? Mike: The biggest would be these two (pointing to 13 + 5). DS: That would be the biggest? Mike: If it, yeah, that would be the biggest, because, see, if I didn’t have this (the 5), it wouldn’t be the biggest, but if I had the 5 it would be the biggest. DS: Ok, what difference does the 5 make?
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Mike: Because, see, this would be 13, and this (13 + 5), that is 18, and see it’s 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, and that’s, no, that isn’t the biggest, oh, I messed up (pause). DS: (laughs) That’s ok, just think about it. Mike: I think they’re the same. DS: Ok, how do you know they’re the same? Mike: Because 15, 14, because, if that one was a 15 and that wasn’t there, and I had 5, and that already has a ten on it because it’s a 13, and they would equal the same. DS: Say that one more time, I think I see what you’re saying, but say that one more time. Mike: That one (13 + 5) already had 13, and if I added these two (10 and 3 in 10 + 3 + 5) together it would be the same, and then it would equal the same, and that’s why it’s the same. DS: Ok, I think I see what you’re saying. Mike: Because these two 5’s, the 3 and the 3, and then I added ten and it’s the same. DS: Very good.
Mike was able to break down the operational inputs into component pieces to compare the values of the ﬁnal outputs. Hence, his sense of addition was beyond immediate actions on inputs, and his method of analysis did not depend on a ﬁnal evaluation of the operational process. Rather, a more sophisticated sense of addition was emerging that allowed Mike to ma nipulate both the operation and the inputs on which the operation was acting. Speciﬁc evidence was also obtained on how Mike used these abilit ies to generalize his arithmetic understandings in speciﬁc situations. Mike showed an ability to apply the operation of addition on novel mathematical objects, as he was successful on a clock arithmetic task (e.g., ‘What time would it be 7 hours after 9:00?’) in both interviews 4 and 5, as well as a task involving arithmetic mod 13. However, an unplanned interaction provided more revealing evidence regarding his ability to use addition on nonstandard objects and unknown quantities. When Mike accidentally saw a + c = _ written on the interview sheet, the following dialogue occurred:
Mike: 
a + c is 3. 
DS: 
It is? (laughs) 
Mike: Yeah, by the numbers, the c and b, a. c has 3, and then the a has one. Oh, that’s 4.
DS: 
Oh, ok, so a + c is 4. What’s a + b? 

Mike: 
h + b, so that would be a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i 
(while counting on ﬁngers to 9). 
DS: 
a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h (while counting on ﬁngers to 8). That would be h, plus, what? c. 

Mike: 
c. h + c. h, h, h, h (pauses) What’s after h, I forgot. a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h (pause) K! It’s k! 
Mike created his own additive world, including the use of ‘a’ as the unit in crease, by applying his understandings of addition to a symbol system that
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Figure 1.
Interview tasks given to Mike at Age 9.
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normally does not relate to this arithmetic context. His understanding of counting as the base process of addition was central to his success. Mike’s ability to apply his understandings in this manner suggests that he had a ﬂexible operation sense of addition that allowed for generalizations in a manner conductive to the development of algebraic ways of thinking, par ticularly in regard to algebra as generalized arithmetic. Clearly, numerous aspects of operation sense were at work during these generalizations. The narrow scope of a ﬁrst grade classroom limits the degree to which an analysis of operation sense of addition can be performed. Therefore, a followup interview was conducted with Mike during his fourth grade year that contained several tasks to measure his awareness of aspects 7, 8, and 9 and the degree to which he was able to generalize his arithmetic understandings. Overall, Mike showed a sense of addition that allowed him to reason about unknown quantities, but showed a limited ability to operate on arbitrary quantities. In addition, Mike had difﬁculty coordinating his algebraic thinking with symbols that depicted arbitrary quantities. Analysis of four tasks ^{2} (Figure 1) will be presented to illustrate Mike’s development in reference to Aspect 8. Task 1 was intended to measure the degree to which Mike could reason about welldeﬁned but unknown quant ities. Mike’s initial attempts suggested that he had difﬁculty quantitatively identifying the situation, where this is deﬁned as gaining a sense of the relationships between the quantities involved. The unknown value of the starting amount problematized his ability to utilize the relationship ‘three times as many’, something he repeated several times. After 6 minutes and two inappropriate solution attempts, Mike was able to quantitatively identify the situation, which prompted a guessandadjust strategy (e.g., 7 × 3 = 21, 21 − 16 = 7?). After testing 5 and 7, he whispered, ‘I bet it’s 8’. However, rather than letting him complete the task, I interrupted in order to test his ability to work the problem in a less computational manner and with a different symbol system:
DS: Let me ask you this, um, we don’t know how many she picks, so let’s just draw something that looks like maybe a basket. Mike: A basket (draws). DS: Yeah, draw something, and that will stand for how many she picked. Now Bobby picks three times as many apples as Jenny. How could you write down how many apples he picked? Mike: Uh, say that again. I didn’t understand what you just said. DS: (restates original question) Mike: (long pause) I still don’t understand what you’re, um (pause)
At this point, an important difference in the wording of the question is made:
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DS: Ok, if Jenny picked one basket of apples, how many would Bobby have picked? Mike: Oh. Three. Yeah, three. DS: Ok, can you write that somewhere. Mike: I’ll just draw three little baskets (draws). DS: Good. So that’s how many Jenny picked, that’s how many Bobby picked, and remember he lost 16. So 16 from here would give you the same amount as there. Mike: Say that again. DS: (repeats) So is there a way to write down losing 16? Mike: Losing 16? He lost two baskets. Of 8. Could he have done that? DS: Two baskets of 8. What makes you say that? Mike: Ok, because, ok, these each have 8 in them, and, 24 total, so you could have lost two baskets to equal one of these, if they both have 8.
With the basket symbol system, Mike was able to apply his operation sense of addition (and multiplication as repeated addition) to act on the unknown quantity. By equating two baskets to the difference amount of 16, he was able to quickly obtain a solution. Although he was initially able to solve the task by a series of computations, the latter solution suggests that he was able to extend his operation sense into higher algebraic realms when provided with an appropriate symbol system and speciﬁc guidance in how to express numeric relationships, which involved unknowns, using that system. The ﬁnal three tasks, adapted from Underwood and Yackel (1998), measure the other facet of Aspect 8; these tasks address the degree to which Mike was able to operate on arbitrary quantities. Mike quickly solved the ﬁrst of these tasks by covering up the two sets of 3 candies, stating, ‘These are even, so it’s just this (the remaining pieces)’, and then by covering 2 of the 7 remaining pieces of the ﬁnal set to obtain his solution. Mike’s com ment indicates an ability to think about the arbitrary amount as a composite unit, as he was able to perform subtraction on the rolls. On the ﬁnal two tasks, Mike was unable to overcome the difﬁculties in herent in operating on arbitrary quantities. The following occurred during Task 3:
Mike: (mumbles ‘these will have two extra’) Um, two, um, let me think, yeah, I think 7 packages, I mean 7 little pieces. DS: Ok, how did you get that? Mike: See, you had this that was crumpled up, so you could take this, um, no, I think it was one package, um, oh yeah (conﬁdently), so now you have a whole package, ok, I did that wrong, ﬁrst I’ll take this one away, so it’s just 3, so 3 and 1 DS: Say that again. Mike: Ok, I have, I think, 1 package, um, let me do this again (long pause) I think you have 3 extra, I think.
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DS: Ok, I’m not quite sure how you’re getting this. Mike: Ok, ‘cause he bought another package, right? DS: Well, you start with 3 wholes and a pack missing two, and then you have four wholes and another thing of 5. Mike: I just thought you could add these 2 (2 of the 5 pieces from the second set) to this one (the incomplete package of the ﬁrst set), and that would equal this one (fourth complete package of the second set) and then you’d have these three extra. DS: Ok, so the difference would be 3? Mike: Yeah.
Mike could have easily solved the equation 45–38, the baseten analogue of this task. However, because of the arbitrary nature of the ‘ten’s place’ in this task, Mike was unable to correctly operate on the numeric values present due to difﬁculties in quantitatively identifying the situation. It is unknown if Mike’s correct initial answer is based on appropriate thinking. However, Mike used the same reasoning on the ﬁnal task to obtain an answer of 2 packs and 2 pieces. This solution reafﬁrms Mike’s ability to operate with an arbitrary unit, as he successfully ‘canceled out’ three packs from each set. However, the arbitrary amount in a given pack prevented Mike from correctly using his operation sense of addition on that part of the task.
4. IMPLICATIONS
The purpose of this paper was to present the framework of ‘operation sense’ as a means of measuring the level of algebraic thought present in children’s thinking and problem solving schema. The idea of operation sense provides a means of analyzing the development of these structures at an appropriate level of abstraction (Kaput, 1995). The particular com ponents of operation sense allow for speciﬁc measures of development. This discussion provides a ﬁrst step in determining which aspects rep resent some of the more important benchmarks in this development as well as the kinds of interactions within the aspects that lead to growth in understanding. Demby (1997) provides evidence that high school algebra students are reluctant or not able to make use of operation properties such as com mutativity when manipulating variable expressions. Case study evidence presented here shows that many of the understandings necessary to se mantically interpret algebraic symbols are present in sixyear old children (in the context of a numberaddition symbol system). Later instruction with formal algebraic symbolisms must support the maintenance of this semantic awareness when encountering novel syntactic aspects (Lee and
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Wheeler, 1989). While some researchers have reported that students en counter enormous obstacles when attempting this kind of development (Matz, 1980; Lee and Wheeler, 1989), Davis (1964) showed how stu dents’ sense of addition can be used in the development of algebraic prin ciples. The evidence presented here suggests that environments promoting symbolic operational activity are highly important in this development. Students at the age of 6 and 7 are quite capable of developing deep understandings of mathematical processes and can be well on their way to developing algebraic ways of thinking. Studies that address this develop ment at more advanced grade levels would provide additional information on the kinds of understandings that arise from these roots of algebraic thought, and are then necessary to make sense of the abstract cognitive demands of formal algebra.
NOTES
^{1} The author wishes to thank Tom Carpenter for making this point clear.
^{2} Task 1 was adapted from work by David Carraher and Analucia Schliemann. Tasks 2– 4 were adapted from work by Diana Underwood and Erna Yackel.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The author wishes to thank Jim Hiebert, Tom Carpenter, Erick Smith, the members of the Early Algebra Research Group led by Jim Kaput, two anonymous reviewers, and the editor for their helpful feedback on earlier drafts of this paper.
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