# Spontaneous Focusing on Quantitative Relations and the Development of Rational Number Conceptual Knowledge

##### McMullen, Jake (2014-02-28)

McMullen, Jake

Turun yliopisto

28.02.2014

**Julkaisun pysyvä osoite on:**

http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN: 978-951-29-5674-6

#### Kuvaus

Siirretty Doriasta

##### Tiivistelmä

The aim of the present set of studies was to explore primary school children’s Spontaneous Focusing On quantitative Relations (SFOR) and its role in the development of rational number conceptual knowledge. The specific goals were to determine if it was possible to identify a spontaneous quantitative focusing tendency that indexes children’s tendency to recognize and utilize quantitative relations in non-explicitly mathematical situations and to determine if this tendency has an impact on the development of rational number conceptual knowledge in late primary school. To this end, we report on six original empirical studies that measure SFOR in children ages five to thirteen years and the development of rational number conceptual knowledge in ten- to thirteen-year-olds. SFOR measures were developed to determine if there are substantial differences in SFOR that are not explained by the ability to use quantitative relations. A measure of children’s conceptual knowledge of the magnitude representations of rational numbers and the density of rational numbers is utilized to capture the process of conceptual change with rational numbers in late primary school students. Finally, SFOR tendency was examined in relation to the development of rational number conceptual knowledge in these students.

Study I concerned the first attempts to measure individual differences in children’s spontaneous recognition and use of quantitative relations in 86 Finnish children from the ages of five to seven years. Results revealed that there were substantial inter-individual differences in the spontaneous recognition and use of quantitative relations in these tasks. This was particularly true for the oldest group of participants, who were in grade one (roughly seven years old). However, the study did not control for ability to solve the tasks using quantitative relations, so it was not clear if these differences were due to ability or SFOR. Study II more deeply investigated the nature of the two tasks reported in Study I, through the use of a stimulated-recall procedure examining children’s verbalizations of how they interpreted the tasks. Results reveal that participants were able to verbalize reasoning about their quantitative relational responses, but not their responses based on exact number. Furthermore, participants’ non-mathematical responses revealed a variety of other aspects, beyond quantitative relations and exact number, which participants focused on in completing the tasks. These results suggest that exact number may be more easily perceived than quantitative relations. As well, these tasks were revealed to contain both mathematical and non-mathematical aspects which were interpreted by the participants as relevant.

Study III investigated individual differences in SFOR 84 children, ages five to nine, from the US and is the first to report on the connection between SFOR and other mathematical abilities. The cross-sectional data revealed that there were individual differences in SFOR. Importantly, these differences were not entirely explained by the ability to solve the tasks using quantitative relations, suggesting that SFOR is partially independent from the ability to use quantitative relations. In other words, the lack of use of quantitative relations on the SFOR tasks was not solely due to participants being unable to solve the tasks using quantitative relations, but due to a lack of the spontaneous attention to the quantitative relations in the tasks. Furthermore, SFOR tendency was found to be related to arithmetic fluency among these participants. This is the first evidence to suggest that SFOR may be a partially distinct aspect of children’s existing mathematical competences.

Study IV presented a follow-up study of the first graders who participated in Studies I and II, examining SFOR tendency as a predictor of their conceptual knowledge of fraction magnitudes in fourth grade. Results revealed that first graders’ SFOR tendency was a unique predictor of fraction conceptual knowledge in fourth grade, even after controlling for general mathematical skills. These results are the first to suggest that SFOR tendency may play a role in the development of rational number conceptual knowledge.

Study V presents a longitudinal study of the development of 263 Finnish students’ rational number conceptual knowledge over a one year period. During this time participants completed a measure of conceptual knowledge of the magnitude representations and the density of rational numbers at three time points. First, a Latent Profile Analysis indicated that a four-class model, differentiating between those participants with high magnitude comparison and density knowledge, was the most appropriate. A Latent Transition Analysis reveal that few students display sustained conceptual change with density concepts, though conceptual change with magnitude representations is present in this group. Overall, this study indicated that there were severe deficiencies in conceptual knowledge of rational numbers, especially concepts of density.

The longitudinal Study VI presented a synthesis of the previous studies in order to specifically detail the role of SFOR tendency in the development of rational number conceptual knowledge. Thus, the same participants from Study V completed a measure of SFOR, along with the rational number test, including a fourth time point. Results reveal that SFOR tendency was a predictor of rational number conceptual knowledge after two school years, even after taking into consideration prior rational number knowledge (through the use of residualized SFOR scores), arithmetic fluency, and non-verbal intelligence. Furthermore, those participants with higher-than-expected SFOR scores improved significantly more on magnitude representation and density concepts over the four time points. These results indicate that SFOR tendency is a strong predictor of rational number conceptual development in late primary school children.

The results of the six studies reveal that within children’s existing mathematical competences there can be identified a spontaneous quantitative focusing tendency named spontaneous focusing on quantitative relations. Furthermore, this tendency is found to play a role in the development of rational number conceptual knowledge in primary school children. Results suggest that conceptual change with the magnitude representations and density of rational numbers is rare among this group of students. However, those children who are more likely to notice and use quantitative relations in situations that are not explicitly mathematical seem to have an advantage in the development of rational number conceptual knowledge. It may be that these students gain quantitative more and qualitatively better self-initiated deliberate practice with quantitative relations in everyday situations due to an increased SFOR tendency. This suggests that it may be important to promote this type of mathematical activity in teaching rational numbers. Furthermore, these results suggest that there may be a series of spontaneous quantitative focusing tendencies that have an impact on mathematical development throughout the learning trajectory.

Study I concerned the first attempts to measure individual differences in children’s spontaneous recognition and use of quantitative relations in 86 Finnish children from the ages of five to seven years. Results revealed that there were substantial inter-individual differences in the spontaneous recognition and use of quantitative relations in these tasks. This was particularly true for the oldest group of participants, who were in grade one (roughly seven years old). However, the study did not control for ability to solve the tasks using quantitative relations, so it was not clear if these differences were due to ability or SFOR. Study II more deeply investigated the nature of the two tasks reported in Study I, through the use of a stimulated-recall procedure examining children’s verbalizations of how they interpreted the tasks. Results reveal that participants were able to verbalize reasoning about their quantitative relational responses, but not their responses based on exact number. Furthermore, participants’ non-mathematical responses revealed a variety of other aspects, beyond quantitative relations and exact number, which participants focused on in completing the tasks. These results suggest that exact number may be more easily perceived than quantitative relations. As well, these tasks were revealed to contain both mathematical and non-mathematical aspects which were interpreted by the participants as relevant.

Study III investigated individual differences in SFOR 84 children, ages five to nine, from the US and is the first to report on the connection between SFOR and other mathematical abilities. The cross-sectional data revealed that there were individual differences in SFOR. Importantly, these differences were not entirely explained by the ability to solve the tasks using quantitative relations, suggesting that SFOR is partially independent from the ability to use quantitative relations. In other words, the lack of use of quantitative relations on the SFOR tasks was not solely due to participants being unable to solve the tasks using quantitative relations, but due to a lack of the spontaneous attention to the quantitative relations in the tasks. Furthermore, SFOR tendency was found to be related to arithmetic fluency among these participants. This is the first evidence to suggest that SFOR may be a partially distinct aspect of children’s existing mathematical competences.

Study IV presented a follow-up study of the first graders who participated in Studies I and II, examining SFOR tendency as a predictor of their conceptual knowledge of fraction magnitudes in fourth grade. Results revealed that first graders’ SFOR tendency was a unique predictor of fraction conceptual knowledge in fourth grade, even after controlling for general mathematical skills. These results are the first to suggest that SFOR tendency may play a role in the development of rational number conceptual knowledge.

Study V presents a longitudinal study of the development of 263 Finnish students’ rational number conceptual knowledge over a one year period. During this time participants completed a measure of conceptual knowledge of the magnitude representations and the density of rational numbers at three time points. First, a Latent Profile Analysis indicated that a four-class model, differentiating between those participants with high magnitude comparison and density knowledge, was the most appropriate. A Latent Transition Analysis reveal that few students display sustained conceptual change with density concepts, though conceptual change with magnitude representations is present in this group. Overall, this study indicated that there were severe deficiencies in conceptual knowledge of rational numbers, especially concepts of density.

The longitudinal Study VI presented a synthesis of the previous studies in order to specifically detail the role of SFOR tendency in the development of rational number conceptual knowledge. Thus, the same participants from Study V completed a measure of SFOR, along with the rational number test, including a fourth time point. Results reveal that SFOR tendency was a predictor of rational number conceptual knowledge after two school years, even after taking into consideration prior rational number knowledge (through the use of residualized SFOR scores), arithmetic fluency, and non-verbal intelligence. Furthermore, those participants with higher-than-expected SFOR scores improved significantly more on magnitude representation and density concepts over the four time points. These results indicate that SFOR tendency is a strong predictor of rational number conceptual development in late primary school children.

The results of the six studies reveal that within children’s existing mathematical competences there can be identified a spontaneous quantitative focusing tendency named spontaneous focusing on quantitative relations. Furthermore, this tendency is found to play a role in the development of rational number conceptual knowledge in primary school children. Results suggest that conceptual change with the magnitude representations and density of rational numbers is rare among this group of students. However, those children who are more likely to notice and use quantitative relations in situations that are not explicitly mathematical seem to have an advantage in the development of rational number conceptual knowledge. It may be that these students gain quantitative more and qualitatively better self-initiated deliberate practice with quantitative relations in everyday situations due to an increased SFOR tendency. This suggests that it may be important to promote this type of mathematical activity in teaching rational numbers. Furthermore, these results suggest that there may be a series of spontaneous quantitative focusing tendencies that have an impact on mathematical development throughout the learning trajectory.

##### Kokoelmat

- Väitöskirjat [2185]