Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, April 16-20
Despite historical re-design efforts, algebra continues to challenge many students. This design-based research study explored the conjecture that learners can mentally construct the technical properties of algebraic systems by manually constructing models of word problems. Drawing on the theory of subjective transparency, the design seeks to “level transparency” by creating a technological environment where students must discover each technical property, e.g., the uniform size of variable quantities, and only then the environment automatizes that property (the “reverse-scaffolding” principle). In a comparison study with forty Grade 4 and 9 participants, the study group outperformed a control group, for whom the technical features were fully pre-automatized. The emerging framework stands to inform the design of activities for algebra and other gate-keeper concepts.