A Developing Approach to Studying Students' Learning through Their Mathematical Activity



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We discuss an emerging program of research on a particular aspect of mathematics learning, students' learning through their own mathematical activity as they engage in particular mathematical tasks. Prior research in mathematics education has characterized learning trajectories of students by specifying a series of conceptual steps through which students pass in the context of particular instructional approaches or learning environments. Generally missing from the literature is research that examines the process by which students progress from one of these conceptual steps to a subsequent one. We provide a conceptualization of a program of research designed to elucidate students' learning processes and describe an emerging methodology for this work. We present data and analysis from an initial teaching experiment that illustrates the methodology and demonstrates the learning that can be fostered using the approach, the data that can be generated, and the analyses that can be done. The approach involves the use of a carefully designed sequence of mathematical tasks intended to promote particular activity that is expected to result in a new concept. Through analysis of students' activity in the context of the task sequence, accounts of students' learning processes are developed. Ultimately a large set of such accounts would allow for a cross-account analysis aimed at articulating mechanisms of learning.