Educational Studies in Mathematics

, Volume 99, Issue 1, pp 1–19 | Cite as

Algebraic thinking, pattern activities and knowledge for teaching at the transition between primary and secondary school

  • Isabelle DemontyEmail author
  • Joëlle Vlassis
  • Annick Fagnant


Research focusing on algebra from primary to early secondary school level has made several major advances over the past decades. Students’ difficulties have been identified and supportive teaching and learning environments have been set up (Cai & Knuth, 2011; Kieran, 2007; Radford, 2008, Mathematics Education Research Journal, 26, 257–277, 2014). The effectiveness of these environments relies on the teachers’ ability to pay careful attention to students’ thinking, which then guides their instructional decisions. This inevitably raises the crucial question of the teachers’ knowledge for managing these types of situations in the classroom. In this context, this paper focuses on the mathematical knowledge for teaching figural pattern activities of 100 teachers at the primary and early secondary school levels. The results show that many primary teachers lack the essential knowledge for teaching these types of activities: they do not have a clear idea of their goal, they do not consider non-standard algebraic generalisations to be correct and they generally seem unable to help students to improve their arithmetical generalisation. Secondary school teachers also seem unable to give adequate feedback to improve students’ arithmetical generalisation. Although they seem to recognise that these activities are intended to improve algebraic thinking, they do not have a clear perception of the role that primary school learning can play in the development of this algebraic thinking.


Algebraic thinking Pattern activities Knowledge for teaching Primary mathematics Secondary mathematics 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of LiègeLiègeBelgium
  2. 2.Maison des Sciences HumainesUniversity of LuxembourgEsch-sur-AlzetteLuxembourg

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