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Adding + It Up: Helping Children Learn Mathematics
Students develop procedural fluency as they use their strategic competence to choose among effective procedures. They also learn that solving challenging mathematics problems depends on the ability to carry out procedures readily and, conversely, that problem-solving experience helps them acquire new concepts and skills. Interestingly, very young children use a variety of strategies to solve problems and will tend to select strategies that are well suited to particular problems.29 They thereby show the rudiments of adaptive reasoning, the next strand to be discussed.
Adaptive reasoning refers to the capacity to think logically about the relationships among concepts and situations. Such reasoning is correct and valid, stems from careful consideration of alternatives, and includes knowledge of how to justify the conclusions. In mathematics, adaptive reasoning is the glue that holds everything together, the lodestar that guides learning. One uses it to navigate through the many facts, procedures, concepts, and solution methods and to see that they all fit together in some way, that they make sense. In mathematics, deductive reasoning is used to settle disputes and disagreements. Answers are right because they follow from some agreed-upon assumptions through series of logical steps. Students who disagree about a mathematical answer need not rely on checking with the teacher, collecting opinions from their classmates, or gathering data from outside the classroom. In principle, they need only check that their reasoning is valid.
Adaptive reasoning refers to the capacity to think logically about the relationships among concepts and situations.
Many conceptions of mathematical reasoning have been confined to formal proof and other forms of deductive reasoning. Our notion of adaptive reasoning is much broader, including not only informal explanation and justification but also intuitive and inductive reasoning based on pattern, analogy, and metaphor. As one researcher put it, “The human ability to find analogical correspondences is a powerful reasoning mechanism.”30 Analogical reasoning, metaphors, and mental and physical representations are “tools to think with,” often serving as sources of hypotheses, sources of problem-solving operations and techniques, and aids to learning and transfer.31
Some researchers have concluded that children’s reasoning ability is quite limited until they are about 12 years old.32 Yet when asked to talk about how they arrived at their solutions to problems, children as young as 4 and 5 display evidence of encoding and inference and are resistant to counter suggestion.33 With the help of representation-building experiences, children can demonstrate sophisticated reasoning abilities. After working in pairs and