Generalization Across Multiple Mathematical Areas (GAMMA)
The recommendation to make generalization a central component of mathematics instruction from elementary school through undergraduate mathematics poses serious challenges in light of the research base that identifies students' difficulties in creating and expressing correct mathematical generalizations and the challenges teachers face in supporting students' abilities to generalize. Furthermore, although student difficulties are well documented, the instructional conditions necessary for fostering generalization are not well understood, particularly at the secondary and undergraduate levels. This project addresses these challenges by developing a comprehensive framework characterizing productive mathematical generalization in Grades 8-16 and identifying instructional interventions that can support correct generalizing. The project occurs within multiple mathematical domains extending from middle school to undergraduate mathematics, including algebra, geometry, calculus, and combinatorics. The project investigators will leverage student interviews, teaching experiments, and design experiment methodologies in order to characterize the processes of generalizing and to identify the instructional conditions that support productive generalization. The results of the project will identify specific tasks and activities fostering student generalizing in a diversity of mathematical settings, which will be of practical use to teachers, school districts, teacher educators, and university instructors.
Mathematical generalization, the ability to create general rules, formulas, and strategies, is a key aspect of doing mathematics. Policy makers recommend making generalization a central component of mathematics instruction at every grade level from elementary school through undergraduate mathematics, with the Common Core State Standards highlighting generalization as a major goal in both the content and the practice standards. However, these recommendations pose serious challenges given students' pervasive difficulties in creating and expressing generalizations. In a report on performance assessments from more than 60,000 secondary students, findings revealed only a 20% success rate in students' creation of correct general statements. Students' challenges with mathematical generalizations also contribute to difficulties in mathematics achievement in many domains, including algebra, geometry, and combinatorics. This project will address these challenges by investigating how students generalize productively and how teachers can support more effective mathematical generalization. Through student interviews and teaching experiments, the project investigators will explore these issues in algebra, geometry, calculus, and combinatorics. Student participants will range from middle school students through undergraduates. The diverse range of student ages and mathematical domains will contribute to a robust model characterizing how students generalize in Grades 8-16. These findings will also identify instructional activities that can better support generalization in many different settings, which will be of use to teachers, school districts, teacher educators, and university instructors. The knowledge generated from the project will support improved student performance in critical areas of undergraduate mathematics, thus contributing to a diverse and globally competitive STEM workforce.