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A systematic review of the use of ICTs in developing pupils’ understanding of algebraic ideas

Who wants to know and why?

The review has been commissioned by the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) and focuses on algebraic functions. The TDA were interested in how ICT could contribute to pupil’s understanding of algebraic functions and under what conditions that understanding developed.

What did we find?

There is evidence that:

  • pupils achieve general gains of understanding when using one type of ICT
  • students successfully use visualisation with graphing software to fit graphs to datasets, to solve equations and to transform functions.
  • pupils working in a computer environment reach higher levels of thinking and are able to explain their thinking better than pupils working in a paper and pencil medium.
  • lower attaining students prefer to work arithmetically with tables of values and only later move to integrate the tables of values with computer-generated graphs.
  • pupils have difficulty moving between symbolic, tabular and graphical forms when solving equations.
  • students do not always know how to use the technology, interpret ambiguities in the output or exercise critical judgment when using some of the advanced calculators.
  • small group and interactive working with teachers enabled ICTs to be used more effectively.
  • students using ICT out of school were better able to use it effectively within school.

What are the implications?

  • Teachers need to help pupils to use the technology critically so that they understand how to interpret mathematical output.
  • Teachers need to make links between functions represented symbolically, in tables and in graphs.
  • Teachers need to negotiate a balance between the individual constructions which may develop when pupils work alone or in small groups with the technology, and common knowledge developed within the whole class.

How did we get these results?

Identifying relevant studies involved carrying out an electronic search, using keywords with bibliographic databases, and handsearching conference proceedings, citations and publications recommended by contacts. This resulted in 33 studies being identified for the systematic map and 14 for the in-depth review.

The EPPI-Centre’s reference number for this review is 1606. The full citation is: 
Goulding M, Kyriacou C (2008) A systematic review of the use of ICTs in developing pupils’ understanding of algebraic ideas. Technical report. In: Research Evidence in Education Library. London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London

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