The role of prior knowledge

Jon R. Star, Bethany Rittle-Johnson, Kathleen Lynch and Natasha Perova have written an article called The role of prior knowledge in the development of strategy flexibility: the case of computational estimation. The article was published in ZDM on Saturday. Here is the abstract of their article:

The ability to estimate is a fundamental real-world skill; it allows students to check the reasonableness of answers found through other means, and it can help students develop a better understanding of place value, mathematical operations, and general number sense. Flexibility in the use of strategies is particularly critical in computational estimation. The ability to perform complex calculations mentally is cognitively challenging for many students; thus, it is important to have a broad repertoire of estimation strategies and to select the most appropriate strategy for a given problem. In this paper, we consider the role of students’ prior knowledge of estimation strategies in the effectiveness of interventions designed to promote strategy flexibility across two recent studies. In the first, 65 fifth graders began the study as fluent users of one strategy for computing mental estimates to multi-digit multiplication problems such as 17 × 41. In the second, 157 fifth and sixth graders began the study with moderate to low prior knowledge of strategies for computing mental estimates. Results indicated that students’ fluency with estimation strategies had an impact on which strategies they adopted. Students who exhibited high fluency at pretest were more likely to increase use of estimation strategies that led to more accurate estimates, while students with less fluency adopted strategies that were easiest to implement. Our results suggest that both the ease and accuracy of strategies as well as students’ fluency with strategies are all important factors in the development of strategy flexibility.

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