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Body Motion, Early Algebra and the Colours of Abstraction

Nemirovsky, Benjamin and Ferrara, Francesca and Ferrari, Giulia and Adamuz-Povedano, Natividad (2020) Body Motion, Early Algebra and the Colours of Abstraction. Educational Studies in Mathematics: an international journal. ISSN 0013-1954


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This paper focuses on the emergence of abstraction through the use of a new kind of motion detector—WiiGraph—with 11-year-old children. In the selected episodes, the children used this motion detector to create three simultaneous graphs of position vs. time: two graphs for the motion of each hand and a third one corresponding to their difference. They explored relationships that can be ascribed to an equation of the type A – B = C. We examine the notion of abstraction on its own, without assuming a dualism abstract-concrete according to which more of one is less of the other. We propose a distinct path for the attainment of abstraction, which involves navigating a surplus of sensible qualities. The work described in this paper belongs to early algebra, we suggest, because it involves the elementary symbolic treatment of unknowns and generals. More broadly, it advances a perspective on the nature of mathematical abstraction.

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