 Open Access Publications from the University of California

Students' Understandings of Arithmetic Generalizations

• Author(s): Haldar, Lina Chopra
• Advisor(s): Saxe, Geoffrey B
• Schoenfeld, Alan
• et al.
Abstract

This study examines fourth graders' understandings of arithmetic generalizations, the general properties of arithmetic that hold true for all numbers. Its focus is on three types of generalizations: (a) direction of change (e.g., addition of positive numbers increases the numerical value, while subtraction of positive numbers decreases the numerical value); (b) identity (e.g., the addition or subtraction of 0 to any number leaves its value unchanged); and (c) relationship between operations (e.g., addition and subtraction are inverse operations). Using a between subjects design, two interview studies were conducted to investigate the character of children's understandings and to understand how students' production of generalizations varied across different tasks (e.g., I am thinking about a number. If I multiply that number by 5 and then divide by 5, what will happen to my number?). Study 1 (n=24) focused on students' additive thinking in the context of addition and subtraction tasks, while Study 2 (n=24) focused on multiplicative thinking in the context of multiplication and division tasks.