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Applying Levels of Abstraction to Mathematics Word Problems


In many discussions of the ways in which abstraction is applied in computer science (CS), researchers and advocates of CS education argue that CS students should be taught to consciously and explicitly move among levels of abstraction (Armoni Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 32(3), 265–284, 2013; Kramer Communications of the ACM, 50(4), 37–42, 2007; Wing Communications of the ACM, 49(3), 33–35, 2006). In this paper, we describe one way that attention to levels of abstraction could also support learning in mathematics. Specifically, we propose a framework for using abstraction in elementary mathematics based on Armoni’s (2013) framework for teaching computational abstraction. We propose that such a framework could address an enduring challenge in mathematics for helping elementary students solve word problems with attention to context. In a discussion of implications, we propose that future research using the framework for instruction and teacher education could also explore ways that attention to levels of abstraction in elementary school mathematics may support later learning of mathematics and computer science.

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This work was supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant number 1738677. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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Correspondence to Kathryn M. Rich.

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Rich, K.M., Yadav, A. Applying Levels of Abstraction to Mathematics Word Problems. TechTrends (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11528-020-00479-3

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  • Mathematics education
  • Computer science education
  • Abstraction
  • Problem solving
  • Elementary education