Research on elementary school students’ learning of algebra indicates that young students do not have to use conventional algebraic notation to express algebraic ideas. At the presymbolic level, students can
- express general, algebraic properties about the number system without using algebraic notation;
- use quasi-variables (e.g., 87 - 39 + 39 = 87) to make connections from existing arithmetic knowledge to algebraic thinking without having to rely on a knowledge of algebraic symbols and explore generality in geometric and numeric patterns. It is better for young students to spend a long time exploring aspects of the generality in patterns than to be exposed too quickly to symbolic representation.
Elementary school students can be encouraged to explore algebraic concepts and to make algebraic generalizations without using algebraic notation.
Research supporting this clip is available in the Teaching and Learning of Algebra in the Elementary Grades Brief.