More and Less: Language Supports for Learning Negative Numbers

The language that students use with whole numbers can be insufficient when learning integers. This is often the case when children interpret addition as “getting more” or “going higher.” In this study, we explore whether instruction on mapping directed magnitudes to operations helps 88 second graders and 70 fourth graders solve addition and subtraction problems with negative numbers. Further we explore to what extent having prior training with directed magnitude language (as opposed to just more and less language, without a direction specified) prepares students to benefit  from the instruction. Our data shows that students, regardless of which language training they had,  improved, and second graders, even with less initial knowledge, were able to make the same gains as fourth graders, suggesting that having initial exposure to negatives earlier could help students reach proficiency by the time the standards expect it.

Bofferding, L. & Farmer, S. (2016, November). More and less: Language supports for learning negative numbers. In M. B. Wood, E. E. Turner, M. Civil, & J. A. Eli (Eds.), Proceedings of the 38th annual meeting of the North American Chapter of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education (pp. 148-154). Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona.