Primary school students’ strategies in early algebra problem solving supported by an online game

M.H.A.M van den Heuvel-Panhuizen, A. Kolovou, A. Robitzsch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In this study we investigated the role of a dynamic online game on students’ early algebra problem solving. In total 253 students from grades 4, 5, and 6 (10–12 years old) used the game at home to solve a sequence of early algebra problems consisting of contextual problems addressing covarying quantities. Special software monitored the students’ online workingwhen solving the problems. Before and after the intervention a paper-and-pencil test on early algebra was administered. The data analysis revealed that the online working contributed to the students’ early algebra performance. There was a significant gain in performance across all grades. The highest effect was found in grade 6. Out of the three strategy profile clusters that could be distinguished in the whole sample, the cluster dominated by using extreme values and the cluster characterized by the trial-and-error strategy were most influential on the gain in early algebra performance. The students’ level of online working, which was defined as a combination of online involvement and strategy use, appeared to have a marginally significant effect on the gain score for the total sample. Per grade there was no significant effect, yet the levels of online working were significantly related to grade. Free playing was mostly performed in grade 4, looking for answers in grade 5, and exploring relations slightly more in grades 5 and 6. About 17 % of the effect of grade on the gain score was mediated by the level of online working.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-307
Number of pages27
JournalEducational Studies in Mathematics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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