Mathematics Education Research Journal

, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 383–406 | Cite as

Using multiple metaphors and multimodalities as a semiotic resource when teaching year 2 students computational strategies

  • Paula Mildenhall
  • Barbara Sherriff
Original Article


Recent research indicates that using multimodal learning experiences can be effective in teaching mathematics. Using a social semiotic lens within a participationist framework, this paper reports on a professional learning collaboration with a primary school teacher designed to explore the use of metaphors and modalities in mathematics instruction. This video case study was conducted in a year 2 classroom over two terms, with the focus on building children’s understanding of computational strategies. The findings revealed that the teacher was able to successfully plan both multimodal and multiple metaphor learning experiences that acted as semiotic resources to support the children’s understanding of abstract mathematics. The study also led to implications for teaching when using multiple metaphors and multimodalities.


Semiotic resources Mental strategies Primary mathematics Video research 


  1. Ainsworth, S., Bibby, P., & Wood, D. (2009). Examining the effects of different representational systems in learning primary mathematics. Journal of the learning sciences, 11(1), 25–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alibali, M., & Nathan, M. (2007). Teachers’ gestures as a means of scaffolding students’ understanding: evidence from an early algebra lesson. Video research in the learning sciences, 349–365.Google Scholar
  3. Arzarello , F. (2006). Semiosis as a multimodal process. Relime (Revista Latinoamericana de Investigación en Matemática Educativa),(Special issue), 267–299.Google Scholar
  4. Askew, M., Brown, M., Rhodes, V., Johnson, D., & Wiliam, D. (1997). Effective teachers of numeracy. London: Kings College.Google Scholar
  5. Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (2011). The Australian curriculum: Mathematics.Google Scholar
  6. Baroody, A. (1984). Children’s difficulties in subtraction: some causes and questions. Journal for research in mathematics education, 203–213.Google Scholar
  7. Edmonds-Wathan. (2012). Spatial metaphors of the number line. In J. Dindyal, L. PCheng, & S. F. Ng (Eds.), Mathematics education: expanding horizons : proceedings of the 35th annual conference of the mathematics education research group of Australasia. Singapore: MERGA.Google Scholar
  8. Erickson, F. (2006). Definition and analysis of data from videotape: some research procedures and their rationales. In J. Green, G. Camilli, & P. Elmore (Eds.), Handbook of complementary methods in education research (pp. 177–191). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  9. Flewitt, R. (2006). Using video to investigate preschool classroom interaction: education research assumptions and methodological practices. Visual Communication, 5(25).Google Scholar
  10. Garcez, P. (1997). Microethnography. In N. H. Hornberger & D. Corson (Eds.), Encyclopedia of language and education: research methods in language and education (pp. 187–196). Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Griffin, S. (2004). Number worlds: a research based mathematics program for young children. In D. Clements & J. Sarama (Eds.), Engaging young children in mathematics (pp. 325–342). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  12. Hackling, M., Murcia, K., Ibrahim-Didi, K., & Hill, S. (2014). Methods for multimodal analysis and representation of teaching-learning interactions in primary science lessons captured on video . Paper presented at the proceedings of conference of the European science education research association, University of Cyprus, Nicosia.Google Scholar
  13. Haylock, D. (1984). A mathematical think-board. Mathematics Teaching (108), 4–5.Google Scholar
  14. Ho, S., & Lowrie, T. (2014). The model method: students’ performance and its effectiveness. The Journal of mathematical behavior, 35, 87–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Howell, S., & Kemp, C. (2005). Defining early number sense: a participatory Australian study. Educational Psychology, 25(5), 555–571. doi: 10.1080/01443410500046838.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kress, G. (2010). Multimodality: a social semiotic approach to contemporary communication: Routledge.Google Scholar
  17. Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1999). Philosophy in the flesh: the embodied mind and its challenge to western thought: Basic books.Google Scholar
  18. Lakoff, G., & Nunez, R. (2000). Where mathematics comes from. New York, NY: Basic books.Google Scholar
  19. Lemke, J. (1990). Talking science: language learning and values. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publsihing Corporation.Google Scholar
  20. Lemke, J. (2002). Mathematics in the middle: measure, picture, gesture, sign, and word. In M. Anderson, A. Saenz-Ludlow, S. Zellweger, & V. Cifarelli (Eds.), Educational perspectives on mathematics as semiosis: from thinking to interpreting to knowing (pp. 215–234). Ottawa: Legas Publishing.Google Scholar
  21. McNeill, D. (1992). Hand and mind: what gestures reveal about thought. University of Chicago pressGoogle Scholar
  22. Mildenhall P. (2015). Early years teachers’ perspectives on teaching through multiple. metaphors and multimodality. Paper presented at the Mathematics education in the margins, Sunshine Coast.Google Scholar
  23. Mowat, E., & Davis, B. (2010). Interpreting embodied mathematics using network theory: implications for mathematics education. Complicity: an international journal of complexity and education, 7(1).Google Scholar
  24. Murdiyani, N., Zulkardi, Z., Ilma, R., Galen, F., & Eerde, D. (2014). Developing a model to support students in solving subtraction. Journal on mathematics education, 4(01), 95–112.Google Scholar
  25. National Council of Mathematics Teachers. (2006). Principles and standards for school mathematics. Retrieved 2nd April, 2008, from
  26. O'Halloran, K. (2005). Mathematical discourse: language, symbolism and visual images. London, England: Bloomsbury Publishing.Google Scholar
  27. Peirce, S., & Welby, V. (1977). Semiotic and Significs. London: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Radford, L. (2003). Gestures, speech, and the sprouting of signs: a semiotic-cultural approach to students' types of generalization. Mathematical thinking and learning, 5(1), 37–70. doi: 10.1207/S15327833MTL0501_02.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Sarama, J., & Clements, D. (2004). Building blocks for early childhood mathematics. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 19(1), 181–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Sfard, A. (1998). On two metaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing just one. Educational Researcher, 27(2), 4–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Sfard, A. (2008). Thinking as communicating: human development, the growth of discourse, and mathematizing. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Torbeyns, J., De Smedt, B., Stassens, N., Ghesquière, P., & Verschaffel, L. (2009). Solving subtraction problems by means of indirect addition. Mathematical thinking and learning, 11(1–2), 79–91. doi: 10.1080/10986060802583998.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Vilette, B. (2002). Do young children grasp the inverse relationship between addition and subtraction?: evidence against early arithmetic. Cognitive development, 17(3), 1365–1383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Vygotsky, L. (1933). Play and its role in the mental development of the child. Soviet psychology, 12, 6–18.Google Scholar
  35. Wright, R., Stanger, G., Stafford, A., & Martland, J. (2014). Teaching number in the classroom with 4–8 year olds. London: Sage publications.Google Scholar
  36. Yin, R. (2009). Case study research design and methods. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia, Inc. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Edith Cowan UniversityJoondalupAustralia

Personalised recommendations