Educational Psychology, Vol. 22, No.

5, 2002

Young Children’s Understanding of Addition Concepts

KATHERINE H. CANOBI, ROBERT A. REEVE & PHILIPPA E. PATTISON, The University of Melbourne, Australia

Children’s knowledge of concrete versions of additive composition, commutativity and 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 problems and solved addition problems. Both studies indicated that concrete versions of principles were salient to most children although associativity was more dif cult than commutativity and there were considerable individual differences in children’s understanding. Study 1 results indicated that schoolchildren were more accurate at recognising additive composition than preschoolers and 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’s emerging part–whole knowledge and mathematical development.
ABSTRACT

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 different parts is fundamental to number sense and underlies many relationships between addition 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, commutativity and associativity are fundamental properties of addition and exploring the sequence in which children learn about them is likely to shed light on the development of part–whole knowledge. However, despite the prominence of such principles in key theories of mathematical development (Gelman & Gallistel, 1978; Piaget, 1952; Resnick, 1992), surprisingly little is known about how children learn about them. For example, some principles (such as associativity) are more complex than others (such as
ISSN 0144-3410 print; ISSN 1469-046X online/02/050513-20 Ó DOI: 10.1080/0144341022000023608 2002 Taylor & Francis Ltd

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commutativity) and may be acquired later but few studies have addressed the developmental sequence in children’s part–whole knowledge. The lack of research into addition principles is especially problematic given the evidence that individual differences in children’s knowledge of the principles are systematically related to their skill in solving school addition problems (Canobi, in press; Canobi, Reeve, & Pattison, 1998). Research into children’s knowledge of different principles is needed in order to understand the emergence and development of conceptual understanding in addition. Because the addition principles vary in complexity, they provide a useful framework for investigating different forms of part–whole knowledge. Additive composition is the principle that larger sets are made up of smaller sets. Commutativity is the principle that 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 noticing regularities in the ways in which physical objects can be combined. For example, the process of combining sets is commutative in the sense that the order in which groups of 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 is viewed as important to conceptual development (Gelman & Gallistel, 1978; Piaget, 1952; Resnick, 1992). For instance, Resnick (1986, 1992, 1994) argues that conceptual development occurs as children map new forms of understanding onto an initially “protoquantitative” part–whole schema. Speci cally, children may initially understand commutativity and associativity in terms of how physical objects can be joined together and a crucial development occurs when counting knowledge is combined with the part–whole schema so that children can reason using equations such as 2 apples 1 3 apples 5 3 apples 1 2 apples. Resnick argues that, at a later stage, children begin to reason with numbers independently of their referential context (2 1 3 5 3 1 2) before understanding 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 implications and 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 conceptual understanding, it is of interest to explore the sequence or sequences in which children learn about them. However, not all researchers suggest a separation of addition principles in children’s representations. For example, Resnick (1992, 1994) claims that associativity and commutativity are not distinct in children’s understanding, citing a longitudinal study of Pitt, a seven-year-old who regarded commutativity and associativity as self-evident permissions rooted in additive composition. However, although Pitt may have come to recognise the interdependency of the principles, it is possible that he came to appreciate the principles at different stages. Moreover, there is some evidence that commutativity may be acquired before associativity (Canobi et al., 1998; Close & Murtagh, 1986; Langford, 1981). For example, Close and Murtagh (1986) found that children correctly solved more written problems designed to re ect commutativity than associativity, but this difference may have been associated with the computational rather than conceptual demands involved in solving three-addend problems. Canobi et al. (1998) measured conceptual knowledge separately from problem solving and found that children were more successful at recognising and explaining the relationship between commuted problems than those depicting aspects of additive composition and

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associativity. However, the ndings of both studies pertain to symbolically presented problems (2 1 3 5 3 1 2) and it is unclear how the results apply to children’s reasoning about physical objects. Langford (1981) investigated concrete versions of the principles in 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 precedes associativity. However, in this study, children needed to remember the interviewer’s descriptions in order to respond correctly and associativity items involved more sets (and longer descriptions) than commutativity items. Therefore, further research into the comparative dif culty of recognising various addition principles in the context of physical objects is needed. Such research should control for possible confounding factors such as a reliance on verbal instructions and the potential use of computation procedures on tasks designed to measure conceptual understanding. A further interpretive dif culty with previous research is that it is unclear why children nd associativity [(a 1 b) 1 c 5 a 1 (b 1 c)] comparatively dif cult. For example, Langford’s (1981) associativity task was the same as his commutativity task, except that it involved three boxes of beans instead of two. Presented symbolically, Langford’s associativity task may have been more closely analogous to the equation a 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 to assess associativity understanding, it is necessary to assess knowledge of decomposing and recombining sets. For instance, Resnick and Omanson (1987) reported an example of associativity knowledge among school children who solved problems such as 23 1 8 by 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 recombined the resulting numbers in a new order. This re ects aspects of the principle not assessed 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 associativity related to additive composition but not the complete principle. Therefore, the role of knowledge about three rather than two sets as well as the composition and ordering of 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 key aspect of individual differences in conceptual knowledge was a tendency for children to 1. understand both commutativity and associativity type relations 2. understand only commutativity type relations or 3. understand neither form of relation Identifying the mathematical relationships that children understand is consistent with calls for investigations of knowledge pro les across mathematical tasks (Bisanz & Lefevre, 1992; Sophian, 1997) and claims that greater attention should be paid to individual 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, examining children’s emerging knowledge of addition principles has the potential to shed light on the connections children make between informal knowledge and school mathematics. In particular, it may be useful to compare the addition concepts of children who have not yet entered school with those who have begun to learn school mathematics. A study by 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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is related to their problem solving skills; in particular, children with advanced patterns of principle knowledge are faster, more accurate and more exible at solving school addition problems than other children. Conceptually advanced children are more likely to report retrieving problem answers from memory, as well as using decomposition (derived fact) and advanced counting strategies to solve problems (Canobi et al., 1998). Although these ndings suggest that older children’s problem solving is related to principle-type knowledge in the context of symbolic problems, less is known about younger children’s knowledge of concrete versions of the principles and their early counting and problem solving skills. Indeed, a study by Sophian, Harley, and Martin (1995) suggests that children as young as three have some appreciation of principles in physical contexts even when they cannot enumerate the sets to be compared. Sophian and colleagues argue that this research supports claims by Resnick (1992, 1994) that for very young children, understanding of part–whole relations is independent of mental representations underlying quanti cation and counting. Moreover, based on a study of ve- to six-year-olds, Baroody and Gannon (1984) argue that children’s use of the min strategy (counting on from the larger addend) does not necessarily re ect knowledge of commutativity. These two studies suggest that children’s early counting and problem solving skills may not be related to their knowledge of addition principles. Nonetheless, other studies suggest that conceptual knowledge underlies children’s use of advanced counting procedures to solve addition problems (Cowan & Renton, 1996; Fuson, 1982, 1988; Martins-Mourao & Cowan, 1998; Siegler & Crowley, 1994). For example, some researchers suggest that children’s use of order-indifferent counting strategies such as min re ect a functional understanding of commutativity (Canobi et al., 1998; Cowan & Renton, 1996; Groen & Resnick, 1977). Similarly, based on children’s rearrangement of quantities in word problems and construction of amounts with different coins as compared with their counting on, Martins-Mourao & Cowan (1998) argue that counting on may be a consequence of understanding additive composition. Moreover, conceptual understanding of what constitutes a legitimate addition strategy precedes children’s ability to count on from the larger addend instead of counting all addends starting from one (Siegler & Crowley, 1994). Counting on is a more ef cient strategy because children start their nal count of the two addends from one of the addends instead of starting their nal count from zero (therefore to solve 3 1 2, children count, “three, four, ve”). Also, Fuson argues that counting on re ects a signi cant conceptual advance as it involves representing an addend using a cardinal number in the nal count (Fuson, 1982, 1988). However, although separate studies suggest that forms of conceptual understanding may be related to using particular counting procedures when solving addition problems, this work has tended to focus on isolated aspects of the relationship between conceptual knowledge and problem solving skill in older children. Research into relations between children’s part–whole concepts and early problem solving is needed. In the present research, children judged the equivalence of pairs of addition problems presented using physical objects. Problem pairs varied in the order in which groups of objects were combined as well as the composition and number of groups. In order to examine knowledge related to different principles, children judged the equivalence of: 1. two- and three-addend commuted problems such as a 1 a1 b1 c5 a1 c1 b b5 b 1 a and

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2. two- and three-addend problems in which sets were decomposed or combined, for example, (a 1 b) 5 a 1 b and (a 1 b) 1 c 5 a 1 b 1 c 3. problem pairs analogous to associativity: (a 1 b) 1 c 5 a 1 (b 1 c) Parentheses in equations were represented by groups presented in combination (groups were presented in a single container not separate containers). A large set of an unspeci ed numerosity was used, in order to prevent children from using computational procedures such as mental calculation, counting or subitising. An interviewer moved uncovered groups of objects so children did not need to remember verbal descriptions. The claim that commutativity knowledge precedes associativity knowledge (Canobi et al., 1998; Close & Murtagh, 1986; Langford, 1981) was explored by addressing three issues. The rst was whether this nding would be supported for concrete versions of the principles. The second was whether there are differences between children’s responses to problem pairs designed to re ect additive composition and commutativity and between their responses to problem pairs designed to re ect additive composition and associativity. Exploring this issue would provide insight into whether children’s dif culties in understanding associativity are due to a weakness in understanding additive composition, and whether early forms of additive composition understanding precede commutativity knowledge, as might be expected on the basis of Resnick’s theory (1986, 1992). The third issue was the involvement of three rather than two sets in associativity. If the relative dif culty of associativity is only due to the need to consider three sets, children should nd it more dif cult to judge additive composition and commutativity problems involving three rather than two groups. Examining these issues was expected to provide insight into the relationships between knowledge of different principles, and what aspects of the complex associativity principle are dif cult for children (the presence of three sets and/or the decomposition of sets and/or recombination of sets). More generally, examining these issues was expected to provide insight into the development of children’s part–whole knowledge in the context of physical objects. In addition to exploring the relative dif culty of part–whole concepts, the research was designed to compare the understanding of children who have just entered school to that of younger children. Examining age group differences was expected to provide insight into how conceptual understanding develops after children enter school. However, focussing on age group differences alone could lead to an inaccurate picture of development because important individual differences among children of the same age could be overlooked. Therefore, in addition to comparing the performance of age groups, a cluster analysis exploring different pro les of performance was conducted. The relationship between children’s conceptual judgements and problem solving with the aid of counters was also examined. Given previous research indicating that sophisticated counting strategies have conceptual underpinnings (Canobi et al., 1998; Cowan & Renton, 1996; Fuson, 1982, 1988; Martins-Mourao & Cowan, 1998; Siegler & Crowley, 1994), part–whole knowledge was expected to be related to using orderindifferent counting strategies and counting on strategies. Moreover, based on research into older children’s problem solving and judgements of symbolic problems (Canobi et al., 1998), it was hypothesised that children’s patterns of conceptual judgements would be related to their problem solving accuracy. The relative dif culty of concrete versions of addition principles and individual differences in conceptual knowledge were explored in two studies. Study 1 involved

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preschool and school children, enabling an exploration of age group differences. In Study 2 schoolchildren solved school addition problems as well as making conceptual judgements, enabling an examination of relations between conceptual knowledge and problem solving. Study 1: Method Participants Participants attended a primary (elementary) school or kindergarten in multicultural, lower-to-middle socioeconomic status suburbs in a large Australian city. There were 49 participants: 11 boys and 13 girls in kindergarten (preschool) whose mean ages were 5 years 2 months (SD 5 3 months) and 5 years 2 months (SD 5 5 months) respectively, and 10 boys and 15 girls in preparatory (reception) grade whose mean ages were 5 years 11 months (SD 5 4 months) and 6 years 2 months (SD 5 4 months) respectively. The parents of the children gave written consent to their participation. Materials and Procedure An addition principles judgement task was administered in order to explore the children’s understanding of concrete versions of additive composition, commutativity and associativity. The task involved making judgements about the equivalence of pairs of addition problems presented using groups of objects. Similar to the procedure adopted by Sophian et al. (1995), children made judgements about the equivalence of conceptually related and unrelated pairs of problems in the context of deciding whether two toys had been given the same number of objects. A female experimenter interviewed children individually in two 15–25 minute videotaped sessions because pilot work revealed that some of the younger children found it dif cult to concentrate throughout one long session. At the start of the rst session, the interviewer invited children to play a game in which two toy bears received some smarties (sweets similar to M&Ms), asking them to judge whether the bears had the same number of smarties. The interviewer told children that they did not have to count the smarties. She showed them two 5cm x 3.5 cm blue boxes, saying, “Look, these boxes are the same. They both have three blue smarties in them.” She then repeated the procedure with two green boxes, each containing four green smarties. The interviewer also showed children two red boxes, each containing 16 red smarties piled on top of each other so that they could not be counted. In order to prevent children from calculating mentally, the interviewer did not mention the numerosity of the red smarties but said that the two red boxes contained the same number of red smarties. Children were not allowed to touch the displays. Children sat facing two toy bears. Each toy had three empty containers in front of it. In order to familiarise children with the task and to check that they remembered that matching boxes contained equal numbers of smarties, the interviewer administered practice trials at the start of the sessions, in which she poured a single box of smarties into a container in front of each toy. As she distributed the smarties, the interviewer described her actions (“Bill gets a box of red smarties and Kate gets a box of red smarties.”). After distributing the smarties, she asked, “Do Bill and Kate have the same number of smarties?” She then informed children whether their judgement was correct, describing the display (“Yes! Bill’s got a box of red smarties and Kate’s got a box of red

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smarties. So they do have the same number of smarties.”) After children responded correctly to three consecutive randomly ordered practice trials, including one involving the same number of smarties and one involving a different number of smarties, the interviewer administered the test trials. The test trials were similar to the practice trials except that the interviewer gave two or three groups of smarties to each toy, in effect presenting children with a pair of addition problems. Table I shows that in order to measure children’s knowledge of addition principles in a concrete context, some pairs of problems were conceptually related. In order to assess commutativity knowledge, trials involved judging the equivalence of two problems, each comprising two groups of smarties in separate containers, but with the groups presented in a different order. In order to assess knowledge about additive composition, trials involved judging the equivalence of a problem in which two groups were combined (in a single container) and one in which the equivalent groups were presented in separate containers. Three-group order and composition trials were exactly the same as these two-group trials, except that they involved three groups of smarties instead of two. The purpose of testing commutativity and additive composition knowledge in the context of three groups of objects was to examine whether the involvement of three sets increases the dif culty of principle judgements. Order of composition trials involved changing the order in which two out of three groups were combined in a single container. As well as examining commutativity knowledge, the trials were designed to test whether responses to composition trials were associated with comparing sets presented in combination with sets presented separately (additive composition knowledge) or with judging any trials involving sets presented in combination. Recomposition trials involved problems containing three groups in which different pairs of groups were combined. They were designed to address associativity knowledge. In one problem, the rst two sets were combined (in a single container) while the third set was presented separately. In the other problem, the rst set was presented in a single container while the other two sets were combined. Children judged three examples of each of the six types of trials described in Table I. All test trials included the group of 16 red smarties in order to measure conceptual knowledge independently of mental calculation or counting. The interviewer distributed smarties from left to right in such a way that all groups remained visible to children, so that they did not need to rely on their memory of her actions or words to judge the equivalence of two problems. For example, in order to test commutativity knowledge, the rst toy received a box of reds in its rst container and then four greens in its next container and the second toy received four greens in its rst container and a box of reds in its next container. As she distributed the smarties, the interviewer described her actions (“Bill gets a box of reds, then he gets four greens. Kate gets four greens, then she gets a box of reds.”). Once the smarties were distributed, the interviewer asked, “Do Bill and Kate have the same number of smarties?” After children judged whether the “addition problems” in each test display were equal, the interviewer asked them to justify their responses (“Why do you think that?”), but gave no feedback. Children also made nine judgements about identity trials in which problems were exactly the same (for example., “Bill gets three blues then he gets a box of reds. Kate gets three blues then she gets a box of reds.”) and nine judgements about inequality trials in which the problems were unrelated (for example “Bill gets a box of reds and three blues. Kate gets three blues and four greens.”). These trials were employed because judging unequal problems as equal or judging identical problems as unequal would constitute evidence for response bias. Each child was presented with the test

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TABLE I. Examples of trials involving conceptually related problems

Trial type 2-group order

Equationa r1 31 3 r 4 3

Interviewer’s description Bill gets a box of reds (pours into container) then he gets three blues (pours into second container). Kate gets three blues (pours into container) then she gets a box of reds (pours into second container). Bill gets a box of reds (pours into container) then he gets three blues (pours into second container) then he gets four greens (pours into second container). Kate gets a box of reds (pours into container) then she gets four greens, (pours into second container) then she gets three blues (pours into third container) Bill gets a box of reds (pours into container) then he gets three blues and four greens (pours into second container). Kate gets a box of reds (pours into container) then she gets four greens and three blues (pours into second container). Bill gets a box of reds and three blues (pours into container). Kate gets a box of reds (pours into container) then she gets three blues (pours into second container).

3-group order

r1 r1

31 41

Order-ofcomposition

r1 r1

(3 1 (4 1

4) 3)

2-group composition

(r 1 r1 (r 1 r1

3) 3 3) 1 31 4 4

3-group composition

Bill gets a box of reds and three blues (pours into container) then he gets four greens (pours into second container). Kate gets a box of reds (pours into container) then she gets three blues (pours into second container) then she gets four greens (pours into third container). Bill gets a box of reds and three blues (pours into into container) then he gets four greens (pours into second container). Kate gets a box of reds (pours into container) then she gets three blues and four greens (pours into second container).

Recomposition

(r 1 r1

3) 1 (3 1

4 4)

a

‘r’ refers to 16 red smarties, ‘3’ refers to three blue smarties, ‘4’ refers to four green smarties, and parentheses refer to combined groups

trials, which included a mix of order, composition, identity and inequality trials, in one of two random sequences. Each sequence of test trials was split into two sessions of 18 test trials, in which children were asked to judge and to justify their judgements, and for which the order was counterbalanced. Children’s judgements were coded as correct if they stated that problems containing the same groups of smarties were equal and problems containing different groups of smarties were not. Children’s justi cations were coded according to whether they made reference to the experimental manipulation (such as noting that groups of smarties were combined for one toy but placed in separate containers for the other toy) and the numerosities (colours) of the groups in each problem (for example noting that problems contained the same groups). Study 1: Results and discussion The purpose of Study 1 was to explore the relative dif culty of judging different addition principles in the context of physical objects and to examine age-related

Children’s Understanding of Addition Concepts
TABLE II. Means (and standard deviations) judgement scores in Study 1 as a function of Age Group Trial Two-group order Three-group order Two-group composition Three-group composition Recomposition n Age 4–5 70 74 58 57 54 23 (31) (30) (38) (37) (39) Age 5–6 85 84 85 85 74 25 (31) (33) (29) (31) (38)

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Note: Judgement scores are the percentage accuracy of children’s judgements of conceptually related problems adjusted for their incorrect judgements of nine inequality problems. There were three judgements of each type of trial.

changes in children’s part–whole knowledge. Initially, children’s judgements of identity and inequality trials were examined in order to detect evidence of response bias. One child judged all problem pairs as unequal and was not included in further analyses. Other children’s judgements were fairly accurate for identity (mean 5 95%, SD 5 11) and inequality trials (mean 5 87%, SD 5 22), suggesting a good understanding of the task. In order to adjust for a possible positive response bias and control for chance responding, each child’s percentage of false positive judgements (that inequality problems were equal) was subtracted from his/her percentage of correct positive judgements (that conceptually related problems were equal). During the testing, children did not appear to notice the experimental manipulation in order of composition trials. This was probably because order of composition trials were the only trials in which the nal display in the two problems was identical. Only two children failed to judge every order of composition trial correctly so these trials were not analysed further. The comparative dif culty of concrete versions of additive composition, commutativity and associativity principles was examined by comparing two-group order, two-group composition and recomposition judgements. Repeated Wilcoxon tests were employed because this is a relatively powerful non-parametric approach to repeated measures designs and is appropriate when planned pair-wise comparisons are of interest, provided a conservative alpha level is adopted (Marascuilo & McSweeney, 1977), therefore an alpha level of .01 was used. Table II shows that the accuracy of composition judgements did not differ from recomposition or order judgements (z 5 2 1.99, P 5 0.05, and z 5 2 1.81, P 5 0.07, respectively), although the latter may be mainly due to the older children’s similar performance on order and composition trials as the younger children had considerably lower mean scores for composition than order trials. As expected, order judgements were more accurate than recomposition judgements (z 5 2 3.06, P 5 0.002). This supports previous research indicating that commutativity precedes associativity understanding (Canobi et al., 1998; Close & Murtagh, 1986; Langford, 1981). However, group number had no effect on order or composition judgements (z 5 2 0.71, P 5 0.48 and z 5 2 0.49, P 5 0.96 respectively), suggesting that the comparative dif culty of associativity is not due to the need to consider three sets. Mann-Whitney U tests were employed to examine differences in the part–whole knowledge of the four- to ve-year-old preschoolers and the ve- to six-year-old

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TABLE III. Means (and standard deviations) of the percentages of different justi cation types for correct judgements in Study 1 Trial Two-group order Same groups Different order Three-group order Same groups Different order Two-group composition Same groups Different combination Three-group composition Same groups Different combination Recomposition Same groups Different combination n Age 4–5 Age 5–6

83 (28) 12 (31) 86 (21) 4 (21) 85 (25) 2 (7) 88 (27) 0 72 (38) 0 23

89 (25) 3 (9) 79 (30) 7 (16) 83 (33) 0 91 (24) 2 (7) 93 (24) 0 25

Note: There were three judgements and justi cations given for each type of trial.

school children. Because no differences were found in the accuracy of children’s judgements of two- and three-group trials, these scores were combined, a Bonferronitype adjustment was made to the alpha level of the three tests and a level of 0.017 was adopted. Table II shows that children in both age groups tended to make extremely accurate commutativity (order) judgements and less accurate judgements of concrete versions of associativity (recomposition trials) and there were no age related improvements in order or recomposition judgements (z 5 2 1.96, P 5 0.05 and z 5 2 1.95, P 5 0.05, respectively). However, the accuracy of children’s judgements of composition trials suggests that the older children’s concrete understanding of additive composition is superior to that of younger children (z 5 2 2.65, P 5 0.008). Justi cations for correct judgements are summarised in Table III. Justi cations for incorrect judgements showed no discernable pattern. Table III shows that for both order and composition trials, children who made correct judgements tended to focus on whether the same groups of objects were present in both problems, rather than on differences between problems. Speci cally, most children justi ed their correct judgements of order and composition trials by describing the sets that were present in both additions (for example, “Bill has greens and reds and Kate has the greens and reds too.”) or simply stating that the same sets were present (for example, “Bill and Kate have the same smarties.”). Such justi cations on recomposition trials appeared more common among older children. Few children made reference to the experimental manipulation that led to differences between the problems when explaining their correct judgements. That is, few children stated that groups had been distributed in different orders or combined in different ways. Thus, correct judgements appear to re ect an ability to concentrate on the equivalence of groups of objects in pairs of problems, despite differences in the ways these groups were combined. Overall, the results of Study 1 suggest that concrete versions of the addition

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principles are quite salient even to preschoolers but as children enter school they develop in their understanding that groups of objects can be thought of as being made up of combinations of smaller groups. The results also suggest that understanding associativity in the context of physical objects is more dif cult than understanding commutativity and that this is due to differences in the conceptual reasoning involved (understanding how sets can be decomposed and recombined) not merely to differences in the number of sets. Study 2: Method Participants Participants attended preparatory grade in two primary schools in multicultural, lowerto-middle socioeconomic status suburbs in a large Australian city. There were 45 participants: 21 boys and 24 girls whose mean ages were 6 years (SD 5 4 months) and 6 years 1 month (SD 5 3 months) respectively. The parents of the children gave written consent to their participation. Preschool children were not included because they were generally unable to solve addition problems. Materials and procedure The materials and procedure for Study 2 were the same as those for Study 1, except that in one of the judgement task sessions, children in Study 2 also completed a ten-minute problem solving task. (Task order was counterbalanced.) The addition problem solving task was designed to examine the ways in which children use counters to solve a set of addition problems in order to provide a basis for exploring the relationship between emerging conceptual knowledge and problem solving abilities. Fourteen single-digit addition problems were presented on separate 30 cm by 21 cm sheets in the format a 1 b 5 ?. The interviewer uncovered problems one after the other, and read them out aloud. Problems were constructed by randomly selecting two addends between one and ten. No number appeared twice in one problem. The position of the larger addend was counterbalanced. Half of the children solved the problems in one random sequence and half in a different random sequence. The interviewer drew children’s attention to counters placed on the table in front of them by saying “you can use these counters if you want.” The interviewer also told them that “it doesn’t matter how you work the problems out” so they would not regard any problem solving strategies as unacceptable (Siegler, 1987). As children solved each problem, the interviewer noted whether they used a covert or overt strategy. Children were not asked to describe their solution procedures because piloting revealed that they found this quite dif cult and the focus of the study was on their overt strategies with counters. Overt procedures were coded according to whether children counted verbally, used their ngers or used counters. Based on the range of strategies that children used in pilot work, counting procedures were coded according to whether children: · · · counted out each addend before conducting a nal count (for 3 1 2 counting, “one, two, three,” (pause) “one, two,” then, “one, two, three, four, ve.”) used counters/ ngers as tags without counting out each addend initially (for 3 1 2 counting, “one, two, three,” then counting on, “four, ve.”) started their nal count from an addend rather than zero (for 3 1 2 counting on “three, four, ve.”)

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K. H. Canobi et al. represented addends using ngers/ counters without overtly undertaking a nal count (for 3 1 2 counting “one, two, three,” (pause) “one, two,” then, “there are ve altogether.”). This recognition strategy is similar to the “ ngers” strategy identi ed by Siegler and Robinson (1982) and Siegler and Shrager (1984).

The order in which children counted the addends was also recorded. Study 2: Results and discussion The analyses addressed three main issues. First, the relative dif culty of judging concrete versions of addition principles was explored. Second, the relation between emerging conceptual understanding and early problem solving was addressed by exploring relations between children’s judgements of principles and aspects of their problem solving such as accuracy and the use of advanced counting strategies involving counting on and order-indifference. Third, the nature of individual differences in children’s knowledge about addition principles in both studies was explored using a cluster analysis. As in Study 1, children were accurate at judging identity trials (mean 5 98%, SD 5 5%) and inequality trials (mean 5 96%, SD 5 8%) and correct conceptual judgements were adjusted for false positives. As for Study 1 an alpha level of 0.01 was adopted for the repeated Wilcoxon tests. Similarly to Study 1, Table IV shows that for Study 2 although the accuracy of composition judgements did not differ from recomposition or order judgements (z 5 -1.06, P 5 0.29 and z 5 2 2.36, P 5 0.02, ns, respectively), children’s two-group order judgements were more accurate than their recomposition judgements (z 5 2 2.81, P 5 0.005). Accuracy level did not differ between two-group and three-group judgements (z 5 2 1.67, P 5 0.10 for order trials and z 5 2 1.59, P 5 0.11 for composition trials). Therefore, like Study 1, the results of Study 2 suggest that concrete versions of associativity are more dif cult than commutativity because associativity involves decomposing and recombining sets—not because it involves three rather than two sets. Table IV shows that, similar to Study 1, children’s order and composition justi cations for correct judgements indicate that success in the judgement task involved concentrating on the equivalence of groups of objects in pairs of problems, despite differences in the ways these groups were combined. In order to explore relations between children’s emerging conceptual knowledge and

TABLE IV. Means (and standard deviations) of judgement scores and the percentage frequency of different types of justi cations for correct judgements in Study 2 Justi cations for correct judgements Trial Two-group order Three-group order Two-group composition Three-group composition Recomposition Judgement scores 79 76 68 72 66 (33) (35) (41) (40) (42) Same groups 87 91 86 90 88 (27) (23) (30) (24) (25) Different order/composition 16 13 10 7 2 (33) (28) (29) (21) (11)

Note: Judgement scores are percentage accuracy of judgements of three trials of conceptually related problems for each trial type, adjusted for incorrect judgements of nine inequality problems made by the 45 children in Study 2.

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TABLE V. Means (and standard deviations) of the frequency and accuracy of children’s problem solving strategies % usea 32 5 8 48 6 (36) (10) (10) (35) (18) % strategy usersb 69 33 60 76 29

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Strategy Covert Advanced count Recognition Count-all Other
a

% correct 67 75 79 77 46 (38) (41) (37) (24) (48)

Overall frequency of reported procedure use among the 45 children in Study 2 b Percentage of children who reported using a procedure to solve at least one problem out of 14 and on whom accuracy scores are based

problem solving skills, their responses to the addition problem solving task were analysed. Children’s problem solving accuracy ranged from 0–100% (mean 5 64, SD 5 32). However, unexpectedly, there was no relationship between the accuracy of children’s problem solving and their conceptual judgements (Spearman’s rho values were .12 for order, .05 for composition and 2 .04 for recomposition). This contrasts with the strong and systematic relationship between problem solving accuracy and knowledge of addition concepts found in older children (Canobi et al., 1998). The distribution of children’s problem solving procedures is presented in Table V, together with accuracy for different procedures. (Because strategies involving ngers were extremely infrequent, they were grouped together with those involving counters.) As expected from earlier studies (Canobi et al., 1998; Siegler, 1987), children often used more than one problem solving strategy across the set of problems. Indeed, based on the categories listed in Table V, only 16% of children used a single strategy to solve all problems, while 27% used two, 40% used three, and 17% used more than three strategies. Table V indicates that the most common problem solving procedure was counting all, in which children counted counters or ngers for each addend, and then counted the total number of counters in the combined set. This procedure, though laborious, was quite accurate. Children used recognition and other counting strategies much less often. More advanced counting procedures involved either counting both addends separately then initiating the nal count starting from the total number in one of these addends (counting on), or using the counters as tags, counting one addend and then counting on in a single count. Because these two advanced counting strategies were relatively infrequent but similar, they were grouped together. The two strategies were judged as similar because they both involve using counters to simultaneously represent the separate addends and the combined set in an addition problem and this reduces the number of counts required to solve the problem. Mann-Whitney tests were used to explore whether children who used advanced counting strategies differed in their conceptual knowledge from those who did not, a Bonferroni-type adjustment to the alpha level was made and a level of 0.017 was used. In support of research indicating that advanced counting strategies have conceptual underpinnings (Fuson, 1982, 1988; Martins-Mourao & Cowan, 1998; Siegler & Crowley, 1994), Table VI shows that children who used advanced counting procedures (involving using counters to simultaneously represent the parts and the whole) made more accurate order judgements

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TABLE VI. Means (and standard deviations) of children’s judgment scores as a function of their use of advanced counting problem-solving strategies Advanced counting strategies Absent Present Order 55 (41) 85 (24) Composition 52 (43) 68 (40) Recomposition 59 (43) 79 (38) n 30 15

Note: Judgement scores are percentage accuracy of children’s judgements of three trials of conceptually related problems for each trial type, adjusted for their incorrect judgements of nine inequality problems.

than other children (z 5 2 2.39, P 5 0.017). However, this difference did not extend to composition (z 5 2 1.03, P 5 0.30) or recomposition judgements (z 5 2 1.80, P 5 0.07). This nding suggests that commutativity knowledge is related to understanding that counters can be used to signify both the addends and the total simultaneously. The result supports previous ndings that children who use advanced counting strategies such as min (counting on from the larger addend) tend to have a good understanding of commutativity (Canobi et al., 1998; Cowan & Renton, 1996). Table V shows that some children used a recognition strategy in which they counted out each set, and then named the total number of items in the combined set without overtly undertaking a nal count. Children using this strategy may have arrived at the nal number of counters or ngers through covert counting, subitising or a kinaesthetic strategy. Table V also shows that covert problem solving procedures were quite common. However, the accuracy of covert procedures was quite low, suggesting that they may have involved guessing or inaccurate covert counting and should not be accepted as evidence of retrieval of answers from memory (as is sometimes assumed in older children). The use of counters appears to have assisted children who used the relatively unsophisticated counting all strategy to achieve accuracy rates as high as those achieved by children who used more sophisticated counting strategies. In contrast, Canobi et al. (1998) found counting all to be the least accurate strategy among older children. This difference may imply that mean accuracy levels are not as useful an index of problem solving skill in research involving young children with access to counters as in studies of older children who do not have access to counters. A measure of order-indifference was calculated as the percentage of problems for which an overt counting strategy was used with addends counted in a different order from that in which they appeared. In keeping with previous research (Canobi et al., 1998), the measure was computed using the seven problems for which the larger addend was presented second as there is no apparent ef ciency associated with order-indifferent counting strategies when the larger addend is presented rst. Unfortunately, such strategies were used on a very small percentage of problems (mean 5 4, SD 5 10), making it dif cult to test whether they were related to conceptual measures. Most children were very rigid, always operating on problem addends in the order in which they were presented. Moreover, of the nine children who used order-indifferent strategies, six only used these strategies once, which may only suggest occasional inattention rather than genuine exibility in treatment of addend order. However, given the debate over whether commutativity knowledge precedes the use of order-indifferent counting strategies (Baroody & Gannon, 1984; Cowan & Renton, 1996), it is of interest to note that, with a single exception, all children who used an order-indifferent strategy judged the majority of commuted addition problems correctly.

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In order to explore individual differences in conceptual understanding, a cluster analysis was conducted on the judgement scores of children in both studies. (The same judgement task was used in Studies 1 and 2.) Children in both studies were included in a single analysis in order to increase the likelihood of identifying small subgroups with distinctive patterns of conceptual knowledge. Children’s patterns of judgements were identi ed using Ward’s clustering algorithm (SPSS, 1999). The clustering algorithm was applied to children’s judgement scores for two- and three-group order and composition trials and recomposition trials. A ve-cluster solution, which accounted for 88% of the total variation in children’s judgement scores, was selected. The six-cluster solution comprised small groups and accounted for 90% of the variance and the four-cluster solution accounted for 85% of the variance. Table VII shows that the patterns of judgements associated with the clusters were distinct and partially ordered. Children in Cluster 1 displayed the most sophisticated pattern of performance, performing close to ceiling level. It is noteworthy that the majority of school children ( veto six-year-olds) and about a third of the preschool children (four- to ve-year-olds) were in the Cluster 1. This indicates that for many children in the sample, but particularly for school children, the addition principles presented in the context of the physical objects were very salient. Children in Clusters 2 and 3 had similar pro les except that Cluster 3 children were much less accurate overall. They had similar judgement scores on composition and order trials but were less accurate at judging recomposition trials, supporting earlier ndings that associativity judgements are less accurate than commutativity judgements. Cluster 4 children judged order trials accurately but judged composition and recomposition trials inaccurately. Children in this subgroup appear to have some concrete version of commutativity, but not additive composition—a relatively uncommon pattern of results that was not re ected in the Wilcoxon tests for differences in the order and composition scores in each study. Children in Cluster 5 performed close to oor level, making mainly incorrect judgements. The cluster analysis supports the results of the Wilcoxon tests by indicating that many children judged order trials more accurately than recomposition trials. The presence of such children supports previous ndings that concrete versions of the associativity principle are relatively dif cult for young children to understand (Langford, 1981). In addition, the cluster analysis indicates that a small group of children may understand relations between groups of objects based on commutativity but not additive composition. Another interesting nding is the tendency for older children to
TABLE VII. Means (and standard deviations) of judgement scores as a function of cluster membership Number of children Trial type Two-group Three-group Two-group Three-group Cluster order order composition composition 1 2 3 4 5 98 82 40 79 8 (4) (19) (25) (29) (15) 95 87 34 92 0 (10) (13) (16) (12) (0) 96 (9) 82 (19) 37 (25) 3 (8) 4 (12) 98 (4) 80 (20) 48 (18) 3 (8) 0 (0) Recomposition 97 (6) 62 (17) 12 (16) 14 (24) 0 (0) 4–5 7 6 6 4 0 Age 5–6 43 9 6 4 8

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respond to the principles in an all or nothing manner. Table VII shows that the vast majority of ve- to six-year-olds were in Clusters 1, 4 and 5, indicating a consistent acceptance or rejection of any given principle. In contrast, the majority of four- to ve-year-olds were in Clusters 2 and 3, indicating less consistent judgements for at least some principles. General Discussion The purpose of the research was to use the mathematical properties of whole number addition to explore children’s conceptual knowledge of how groups of objects can be combined. The results are consistent with arguments that young children develop an understanding of additive composition, commutativity and associativity in the context of physical objects (Gelman & Gallistel, 1978; Resnick, 1992). In addition, the results support the usefulness of exploring different patterns in children’s conceptual knowledge. Indeed, analyses of children’s patterns of judgements and of the comparative dif culty of different principles suggest a developmental progression in part–whole understanding. One group of children appears to have a concrete knowledge that sets can be combined in different orders without understanding that sets presented in combination are equal to the same sets presented separately. This suggests that some children might acquire a primitive form of commutativity before understanding that groups of objects are additively composed of smaller groups. The results also support claims that commutativity knowledge precedes associativity knowledge, and indicate that it is the conceptual relations involved in concrete versions of associativity rather than the mere presence of three sets that makes the principle more dif cult. Consistent with previous ndings, the results also suggest that although children’s understanding of concrete versions of additive composition improves after they enter school, many preschoolers understand that problems are equal when the same groups of objects are combined in different orders or are decomposed and recombined (Cowan & Renton, 1996; Sophian et al., 1995). Finally, while the systematic relationship between problem solving and conceptual knowledge found among older children by Canobi et al. (1998) was not present, the emergence of advanced counting strategies was related to commutativity knowledge. Although the majority of children who participated in the study had a surprisingly good understanding of the addition principles presented in a concrete context, different patterns of partial knowledge were identi ed. The results support previous research involving symbolic problems, which indicates that some children who understand commutativity have dif culties with associativity (Canobi et al., 1998). The results also indicate that some children in the present research had a concrete understanding of commutativity but not additive composition although the reverse pattern was not found. The cluster solution suggests that some children acquire some understanding that parts combined in different orders are equivalent before they fully appreciate the ways in which the parts can be combined to form a whole (although this nding was not apparent in the separate analyses of judgement scores for each study). The identi cation of such a conceptual pro le appears inconsistent with Resnick’s (1992, 1994) claim that additive composition knowledge is fundamental to children’s understanding of other principles. Moreover, failing to understand that a combination of two groups of objects is equal to those groups of objects presented separately indicates a failure to understand addition in a fundamental sense. Therefore, it may seem surpris-

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ing that some children seem to have acquired an early version of commutativity without such a basic addition understanding. Nonetheless, Baroody and Ginsburg (1986) have argued that even children who have a very primitive notion of addition may have some understanding of the role of order in adding physical objects. They claim that on the basis of their computational experience, children learn that it does not matter whether you start with one set of blocks and add another set, or start with the second set and add the rst set: the result is still the same. Baroody and Ginsburg argued that this computation-based knowledge does not necessarily imply that children understand that addition is a binary operation involving the union of two sets. Indeed, it is possible that an understanding the order-irrelevance counting principle (Gelman & Gallistel, 1978) helps at least some children appreciate of the role of order in combining groups of objects. Knowledge that the objects can be counted in any order to arrive at the total may lead to recognition that two groups of objects combined in different orders have the same total. The present investigation into children’s knowledge of the ways in which physical objects can be combined supports the suggestion that commutativity knowledge precedes associativity knowledge (Canobi et al., 1998; Close & Murtagh, 1986; Langford, 1981). The current research suggests that differences in children’s performance on commutativity and associativity items are not restricted to symbolic problems and cannot be explained by appealing to non-conceptual factors such the involvement of more dif cult computational, memorial or verbal demands. Interestingly, the presence of three rather than two groups in order and composition trials did not affect the accuracy of children’s judgements. This suggests that the mere presence of three sets is not responsible for children’s dif culties in understanding concrete versions of associativity; instead, these dif culties arise due to the conceptual demands involved in understanding that sets can be decomposed and recombined in different ways. Although some age group differences in conceptual understanding were found, the present results also support previous research indicating that many preschool children understand that problems are equal when the same groups of objects are combined in different orders or are decomposed and recombined (Cowan & Renton, 1996; Sophian et al., 1995). The accuracy with which even preschoolers judged the principles suggests that young children have a rich knowledge of regularities in the ways in which groups of objects can be joined together and pulled apart. These ndings are in keeping with theoretical accounts suggesting that children’s understanding of part–whole concepts crucial to school arithmetic emerges in the context of the physical world (Resnick, 1992, 1994). Moreover, the ndings suggest that using the formal principles as a framework allows the identi cation of important developmental changes in children’s knowledge. For example, the results suggest that one important conceptual gain that many children make after entering school is a greater appreciation that larger groups of objects are additively composed of smaller groups. The current research into children in their rst year of school did not reveal the strong systematic relationship between conceptual knowledge and problem solving found in children who had been attending school for more than a year (Canobi, in press; Canobi et al., 1998). The nding that conceptual judgements were not related to problem solving accuracy is in keeping with research suggesting that people often nd it dif cult to coordinate their knowledge of formal and informal mathematics (Nunes, Schliemann, & Carraher, 1993) and supports Resnick’s (1992, 1994) claim that a protoquantitative part–whole schema emerges separately from knowledge related to counting and quanti cation. It may be the case that many children in the sample had

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not reached the stage in their mathematical development in which protoquantitative part–whole knowledge and quanti cation knowledge become integrated. Nonetheless, there was some indication that the forms of part–whole knowledge explored in the current study interact with problem solving skills. In support of previous research indicating that conceptual understanding precedes children’s use of counting on procedures (Fuson, 1982, 1988; Martins-Mourao & Cowan, 1998; Siegler & Crowley, 1994), the results suggest that children who used advanced counting strategies to solve addition problems had a greater understanding of concrete versions of commutativity than those who did not. Although it is dif cult to explain why the children who used advanced counting strategies did not also have a better understanding of additive composition and associativity than their less skilled counterparts, the results do suggest that some forms of principle understanding are related to an ability to use counters to simultaneously represent the parts as well as the whole in problem solving. Considered alongside the other ndings, this result implies that, for the most developmentally advanced children in the sample, there may have been an interaction between knowledge of part–whole relations and counting and problem solving skills. However, the majority of children in the sample did not appear to make connections between their relatively strong understanding of part–whole concepts in the context of the physical world and school addition problems. The results have important theoretical and educational implications. They suggest that addition principles presented in the context of physical objects are quite salient to young children and that many children have a surprisingly advanced concrete knowledge of such principles even before they enter school. It seems likely that such children would bene t from instruction in which explicit links are made between this emerging understanding and the problem solving skills that they are taught in school. Indeed, the present study indicates that the few children who employ strategies involving a more ef cient use of counters to solve addition problems have a relatively good understanding of commutativity-type relations in the physical world. Further research examining the kinds of experiences that facilitate the emergence of knowledge about mathematical properties such as commutativity is likely to prove very useful. In particular, it may be helpful to explore interventions designed to help children to recognise patterns in the ways in which objects can be combined, progress from concrete to more abstract versions of the principles, and apply part–whole knowledge to school-based mathematical problems. Differences in the accuracy of children’s judgements of trials related to commutativity, additive composition, and associativity suggest that examining children’s knowledge of different mathematical principles will provide insight into changes in their domain knowledge over time. Therefore, longitudinal research tracking the emergence of these forms of conceptual understanding is also likely to prove informative. In conclusion, the present study supports the claim that the mathematical properties of whole number addition provide a useful framework for exploring children’s conceptual development (Gelman & Gallistel, 1978; Langford, 1981; Resnick, 1992). The results suggest that many preschoolers know about relationships based on addition principles in the context of combining sets of objects, and that they are particularly adept in recognising the consequences of combining groups of objects in different orders. Moreover, at least for the current sample, a key change in children’s knowledge after they enter school is a greater recognition that large groups of objects can be thought of as being made up of combinations of smaller groups. In addition, an analysis of individual differences suggests that some children recognise the equivalence of

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problems in which groups of objects are combined in different orders but not problems in which groups of objects are decomposed and recombined in different ways. These results support claims that the addition principles represent fundamental properties of the addition operation and that young children learn about these properties through their experiences with physical objects. The ndings also indicate that exploring concrete versions of part–whole concepts based on formal addition principles provides important information about children’s conceptual development in early mathematics. Correspondence: Katherine H. Canobi, Department of Psychology, University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 3010 (e-mail: khc@unimelb.edu.au). REFERENCES
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