Mathematics:  From Concrete to Conceptual

During the years from kindergarten to eighth grade, students must repeatedly extend their conception of number. At first, “number” means “counting number”: 1, 2, 3, … Soon after that, 0 is used to represent “none” and the whole numbers are formed by the counting numbers together with zero. The next extension is fractions. At first, fractions are barely numbers and tied strongly to pictorial representations. Yet by the time students understand division of fractions, they have a strong concept of fractions as numbers and have connected them, via their decimal representations, with the base-ten system used to represent the whole numbers. During middle school, fractions are augmented by negative fractions to form the rational numbers. In Grade 8, students extend this system once more, augmenting the rational numbers with the irrational numbers to form the real numbers. In high school, students will be exposed to yet another extension of number, when the real numbers are augmented by the imaginary numbers to form the complex numbers.

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