A Review of the Effects of Visual-Spatial Representations and Heuristics on Word Problem Solving in Middle School Mathematics

Elizabeth Kribbs, Beth A. Rogowsky

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Abstract


Mathematics word-problems continue to be an insurmountable challenge for many middle school students. Educators have used pictorial and schematic illustrations within the classroom to help students visualize these problems. However, the data shows that pictorial representations can be more harmful than helpful in that they only display objects or persons while neglecting the spatial relationships between those components (Hegarty & Kozhevnikov, p. 686). Research supports schematic diagrams that highlight spatial relationships and focus on related information within the problem (Hegarty & Kozhevnikov, 1999; van Garderen & Montague, 2003). In addition to these strategies, educators have used heuristics (systematic scripted procedures to solve word problems) as a way to provide structure and routine to a variety of word problems. This review of the literature found varying results for the use of some heuristics being implemented in present-day classrooms. On the other hand, both visual-spatial diagrams and heuristics have demonstrated value in middle school special education classrooms. These findings support the further use and research of visual-spatial representations and problem-solving heuristics in order to solve mathematics word problems.


Keywords


Mathematics education; Word problems; Heuristics; Middle school; Special education

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