Matchbox Algebra

Graham, Alan and Duke, Roger (2009). Matchbox Algebra. In: Houssart, Jenny and Mason, John eds. Listening Figures: listening to learners of mathematics at secondary school and above. Stoke on Trent, UK: Trentham Books, pp. 25–38.



The authors have been working on developing an innovative way of teaching fundamental ideas of algebra. Many learners struggle with understanding what an algebraic letter like x really means. At a more detailed level, they may also be unable to make a clear distinction between terms involving the variable (say, x) and numbers. Our approach is based on using matchboxes to represent the unknown letter, x, and matches to represent numbers. We have created a software version of Matchbox Algebra in the form of a Java applet. In this chapter we set out some background ideas that influenced the design of the software and describe how we trialled it with learners of different ages. By listening to these learners’ comments, we were able to see how the computer screen pictures might help them to form visual imagery that supported their grasp of the idea of a variable as well as to gain confidence in using basic algebra skills.

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