The Learning Difficulties Faced by Community College Algebra II Students in Understanding Algebraic and Symbolic Notation

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Montana State University


This research project is aimed to find out students’ common errors and misconceptions regarding to the understanding of the algebraic and symbolic notation and what factors affecting them in their understanding. 18 students from a semester-long algebra II class from a community college were invited to participate in this study by taking a pre- and a post- diagnostics tests. Students’ answers on the tests were analyzed. 15 students were interviewed afterwards to explain their errors. Students’ answers on the tests and responses from the interviews have shown that students did have some misconceptions concerning learning of algebra. They generally had difficulty in recognizing the roles of the variables that were used in algebraic expressions or equations. They also ignored the order of operations. Most of them had difficulty in knowing the difference between algebraic expressions and equations. The other purpose of this research was to study the effectiveness of adopting collaboration as an instructional strategy on the students’ conceptual understanding of the algebraic and symbolic notation. A paired-samples t-test was conducted to compare the results between the pre- and the post-diagnostic tests in adopting collaboration as an instructional strategy. The results suggested that the collaboration did have an impact on the students’ learning in algebraic and symbolic notation. Specifically, the results suggested that adopting collaboration could help students’ conceptual understanding on the algebraic and symbolic notation. The teaching strategies that might help students combat misconceptions and overcome learning difficulties when learning basic algebra are also discussed in this research report.


To design, implement and complete a quantitative research project which shows evidence of the advanced professional's skills in accessing and interpreting literature and applying information from research to solve or discover more about a practical problem encountered in his or her professional practice. Instructor’s name: Dr. Arthur Bangert (EDU 607 Quantitative Educational Research)



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