Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name



Curriculum and Instruction

First Advisor

Thomas G. Edwards


This dissertation aims to illuminate novice algebra student’s conceptual understandings of variables, solving equations, and the juxtaposition of the two. The goal of this study is to design a curricular intervention for a beginning Algebra 1 course and document, analyze, and interpret conceptual changes beginning algebra students experience in their understanding of variables and solving equations. Previous literature in this field indicate that students are not grasping a concrete conceptual understanding of algebraic topics starting at the very basic building blocks of algebra. This study advances our understanding of how we can alleviate some students’ frustrations and misunderstandings of variables, solving equations, and the juxtaposition of the two. The research was conducted using Conceptual Change Inquiry Learning and Phenomenography as theoretical frameworks. This qualitative study used data from field observations and notes, audio recordings, student work, and responses from semi-structured group interviews to retrieved results. Findings from the research show that helping students to gain a conceptual change involves curriculum interventions, various pedagogical techniques, and participation from students in classroom discourse. The following themes related to supporting students in gaining a conceptual change themes emanated from the study’s findings: (a) teacher influence, (b) real-world value/defining the variable, (c) classroom discourse, and (d) time on task. The results, implications for teacher education, and implications for future research are discussed.