Sowing the seeds of algebraic generalization: designing epistemic affordances for an intelligent microworld


Manolis Mavrikis, London Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education, University of London, 23–29 Emerald Street, London NW 10JG, UK. Email:


This paper describes the design of a mathematical microworld to tackle the persistent difficulties that secondary school students have with the idea of algebraic generalization, which is a key stumbling block in secondary-school mathematics classrooms. Our focus is to characterize algebraic ways of thinking and to design both affordances of the system as well as suitable tasks and pedagogies that provide a substrate of activity and experience for the teaching and learning of algebraic generalizations. Using as reference illustrative cases of 12 to 13-year-old students' interaction with the microworld, we demonstrate the strong interplay between epistemology and the design of the microworld and draw conclusions regarding its potential to support the development of algebraic ways of thinking.