Educational Studies in Mathematics

, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 1–19 | Cite as


  • Mollie MacGregor
  • Kaye Stacey


Research studies have found that the majority of students up to age 15 seem unable to interpret algebraic letters as generalised numbers or even as specific unknowns. Instead, they ignore the letters, replace them with numerical values, or regard them as shorthand names. The principal explanation given in the literature has been a general link to levels of cognitive development. In this paper we present evidence for specific origins of misinterpretation that have been overlooked in the literature, and which may or may not be associated with cognitive level. These origins are: intuitive assumptions and pragmatic reasoning about a new notation, analogies with familiar symbol systems, interference from new learning in mathematics, and the effects of misleading teaching materials. Recognition of these origins of misunderstanding is necessary for improving the teaching of algebra.


Research Study General Link Generalise Number Cognitive Development Teaching Material 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mollie MacGregor
  • Kaye Stacey

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