The Role of Executive Functions for Structure-Mapping in Mathematics


Comparing analogs is a key recommendation in mathematics instruction, but successful structure-mapping may impose high demands on children’s executive functions (EF). We examine the role of individual differences in EF resources on learning from an everyday mathematics video-lesson placing a particular strain on children’s cognitive resources: comparing three analogs presented sequentially. Specifically, we examine the separate contributions of working memory (WM) and inhibitory control (IC) on successful schema-formation. Overall, WM and IC explained distinct variance for predicting improvements in procedural knowledge, procedural flexibility, and conceptual knowledge after a 1-week delay. WM & IC are less predictive at immediate post-test, suggesting that these functions are not simply correlated with mathematics skill, but may be particularly important in the process of structure-mapping for durable schema-formation. These results inform the literature on both analogy and mathematics learning, extending previous findings implicating EFs as key for successful structure-mapping to an ecologically valid learning context.

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