Equations Are Effects: Using Causal Contrasts to Support Algebra Learning

Jessica M. WalkerUniversity of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Patricia W. ChengUniversity of California, Los Angeles
James W. StiglerUniversity of California, Los Angeles

Abstract

U.S. students consistently score poorly on international mathematics assessments. One reason is their tendency to approach mathematics learning by memorizing steps in a solution procedure, without understanding the purpose of each step. As a result, students are often unable to flexibly transfer their knowledge to novel problems. Whereas mathematics is traditionally taught using explicit instruction to convey analytic knowledge, here we propose the causal contrast approach, an instructional method that recruits an implicit empirical-learning process to help students discover the reasons underlying mathematical procedures. For a topic in high-school algebra, we tested the causal contrast approach against an enhanced traditional approach, controlling for conceptual information conveyed, feedback, and practice. The causal contrast approach yielded remarkably greater success, especially on novel problems, across students with varying levels of mathematical competence.

Files

Equations Are Effects: Using Causal Contrasts to Support Algebra Learning (395 KB)



Back to Table of Contents