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Most and Least: Differences in Integer Comparisons Based on Temperature Comparison Language

Abstract

The language involved in de-contextualized integer comparisons poses challenges, as students may interpret “most” based on absolute values rather than on order. Using the context of temperature, we explored how students’ integer value comparisons differed based on question phrasing (which temperature is hottest, most hot, least hot, coldest, most cold, least cold) and on numbers presented (positive, negative, mixed). Participants included 88 second graders and 70 fourth graders from a rural school district in the Midwestern USA, and each student solved 36 integer comparisons. For comparisons with positive number choices, students had more difficulty with “coldest” than “hottest”; however, the results were reversed for comparisons with only negative number choices. When working with mixed comparisons, students often chose the least of the cold as opposed to the least cold, suggesting that they saw hot and cold as categorical opposites rather than opposites on a continuum, with zero as a boundary.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by NSF CAREER award DRL-1350281. The authors would like to thank the schools, teachers, and students involved in the research for their participation and support. The authors give thanks especially to Mahtob Aqazade for her review of the paper.

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Correspondence to Laura Bofferding.

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Bofferding, L., Farmer, S. Most and Least: Differences in Integer Comparisons Based on Temperature Comparison Language. Int J of Sci and Math Educ 17, 545–563 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10763-018-9880-4

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Keywords

  • Integers
  • Language
  • Number comparisons
  • Temperature