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Matchbox Algebra

Created on 01 March 2007 by admin2
Updated on 25 July 2013 by admin2
Matchbox Algebra is the first of a suite of three Java applets being created and trialled by Alan Graham, Roger Duke and Sue Johnston-Wilder designed to enable learners to grasp a key idea in learning algebra: that the letter ‘x’ may be thought of as representing an as-yet-unknown number. The bonus is that Matchbox Algebra can be freely accessed, along with relevant documentation and suggestions on how you might use it with learners, at  (choose ‘matchboxes’).
In their article the authors discuss how the mathematical education of learners can be supported by ICT, in relation to pupil’s levels of understanding of basic algebra. In Matchbox Algebra, linear equations are presented in the form of matchboxes (corresponding to the x values) and matches (corresponding to the numbers). The aim is for the user to determine how many matches are in a box. The software is presented at different levels of sophistication. As the level of difficulty of the questions increases, students find that they are no longer easily able to guess how many matches are in a box. At this point, they are provided with tools for manipulating, and thereby solving, the matchbox equations. The final option of the software enables users to tackle the problems using conventional algebraic notation.

During trials of the software, the authors have been encouraged by its ease of use and the way in which it has enabled useful discussions of the corresponding algebraic ‘big ideas’. The authors believe that an awareness of these can greatly aid learners’ grasp of basic algebra and their understanding of the mechanics and meaning of solving equations.

The suite of three Java applets being created and trialled by Alan Graham, Roger Duke and Sue Johnston-Wilder are called Matchbox Algebra, Tuckshop (on place value and subtraction) and Fraction Kit (where learners create and explore their own fraction templates). All three applets will be added to the Centre for Mathematics Education website: http://cme.open.ac.uk/ICT/index.htm.
Duke, R. and Graham, A (2007) Inside the letter, Mathematics Teaching 200, January, p42-44
Roger Duke is a researcher at the School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, and Alan Graham is a lecturer at the Centre for Mathematics Education, Open University.

Once you've read this article, you may wish to contribute to the Mathemapedia article on algebra, so that others may benefit from your ideas.  Click here to go to the article.


To find out more about the Association of Teachers of Mathematics (ATM) visit their website, www.atm.org.uk.


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05 March 2018 22:01
I would love to use this but I can't get it to run! Any ideas?
By lozzihen
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24 April 2012 14:51
On Roger Duke's page at the University of Queensland, there are links to the Java Applets which he has helped develop. http://itee.uq.edu.au/~rduke/eis.html
24 April 2012 14:13
This looks interseting but hte web link http://cme.open.ac.uk/ICT/index.htm doesn't work any more - is it still available?
By ionec
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