This commentary addresses the role of theoretical frameworks in building models of students’ mathematics. Specifically, it compares ways that the Learning Through Activity framework (LTA) and scheme theory explain and predict students’ mathematical activity. Both frameworks rely on Piagetian constructs – especially reflective abstraction – to build explanatory models for teaching and learning. LTA attempts to provide the teacher-researcher with a greater degree of determination in student learning trajectories, but then the teacher-researcher must address constraints in the students’ available ways of operating. These issues are exemplified in the case of teaching students about multiplying fractions. Additional theoretical issues arise in explaining logical necessity in students’ ways of operating and the role of reflective abstraction in organizing new ways of operating.

Steffe L. P. (2004) On the construction of learning trajectories of children: The case of commensurate fractions. Mathematical Thinking and Learning 6(2): 129–162. https://cepa.info/2113

Learning trajectories are presented of 2 fifth-grade children, Jason and Laura, who participated in the teaching experiment, Children’s Construction of the Rational Numbers of Arithmetic. 5 teaching episodes were held with the 2 children, October 15 and November 1, 8, 15, and 22. During the fourth grade, the 2 children demonstrated distinctly different partitioning schemes-the equi-partitioning scheme (Jason) and the simultaneous partitioning scheme (Laura). At the outset of the children’s fifth grade, it was hypothesized that the differences in the 2 schemes would be manifest in the children’s production of fractions commensurate with a given fraction. During the October 15 teaching episode, Jason independently produced how much 3/4 of 1/4 of a stick was of the whole stick as a novelty, and it was inferred that he engaged in recursive partitioning operations. An analogous inference could not be made for Laura. The primary difference in the 2 children during the teaching episodes was Laura’s dependency on Jason’s independent explanations or actions to engage in the actions that were needed for her to be successful in explaining why a fraction such as 1/3 was commensurate to, say, 4/12.

Steffe L. P. (2017) Psychology in mathematics education: Past, present, and future. In: Galindo E. & Newton J. (eds.) Proceedings of the 39th annual meeting of the North American Chapter of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education. Hoosier Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators, Indianapolis IN: 27–56. https://cepa.info/8233

Starting with Woodworth and Thorndike’s classical experiment published in 1901, major periods in mathematics education throughout 20th century and on into the current century are reviewed in terms of competing epistemological and psychological paradigms that were operating within as well as across the major periods. The periods were marked by attempts to make changes in school mathematics by adherents of the dominant paradigm. Regardless of what paradigm was dominant, the attempts essentially led to major disappointments or failures. What has been common across these attempts is the practice of basing mathematics curricula for children on the first-order mathematical knowledge of adults. I argue that rather than repeat such attempts to make wholesale changes, what is needed is to construct mathematics curricula for children that is based on the mathematics of children. Toward that end, I present several crucial radical constructivist research programs.