Improving pre-algebraic thinking in preschoolers through patterning

AbstractThe learning and generalization of patterns is an important aspect of mathematical thinking, such that the ability to identify and use patterns early in development predicts future success in algebra and math. Thus, understanding the critical factors that facilitate this relational knowledge is important for the development of instructional materials and for curriculum development. The aim of the present study was to examine the factors that facilitate the learning and transfer of pattern knowledge. In two experiments, 4- to 6-year-old children participated in a pre-post test design, in which they received training on novel patterns. Critically, we manipulated (1) the language with which children were exposed to novel patterns during training and (2) the perceptual format in which children were exposed to novel patterns. We find that 4-6 year old children were able to learn about novel patterns following this intervention, but faired best when trained on abstract (“A-B-A”) rather than concrete (“red-blue-red”) labels. Furthermore, the extent to which the training stimuli were grounded in visual representations affected both learning and generalization of this newly acquired pattern knowledge. This work has implications for instructional design and curriculum development in the classroom.

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