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An Exploration of the Role Natural Language and Idiosyncratic Representations in Teaching How to Convert among Fractions, Decimals, and Percents


"Using qualitative data collection and analyses techniques, we examined mathematical representations used by sixteen (N=16) teachers while teaching the concepts of converting among fractions, decimals, and percents. We also studied representational choices by their students (N=581). In addition to using geometric figures and manipulatives, teachers used natural language such as the words nanny and house to characterize mathematical procedures or algorithms. Some teachers used the words or phrases bigger, smaller, doubling, and building-up in the context of equivalent fractions. There was widespread use of idiosyncratic representations by teachers and students, specifically equations with missing equals signs and not multiply/dividing by one to find equivalent fractions. No evidence though of a relationship between representational forms and degree of correctness of solutions was found on student work. However, when students exhibited misconceptions, those misconceptions were linked to teachers' use of idiosyncratic representations."


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