Are Patterns Important? An Investigation of the Relationships Between Proficiencies in Patterns, Computation, Executive Functioning, and Algebraic Word Problems

Kerry Lee, Swee Fong Ng, Rebecca Bull, Madeline Lee Pe, Ringo Ho Moon Ho

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


Although mathematical pattern tasks are often found in elementary school curricula and are deemed a building block for algebra, a recent report (National Mathematics Advisory Panel, 2008) suggests the resources devoted to its teaching and assessment need to be rebalanced. We examined whether children's developing proficiency in solving algebraic word problems is related to their proficiencies in patterns, computational, and working memory tasks. Children (N = 151 10-year-olds) were tested twice, 1 year apart, and were administered tests of updating capacities (2 complex span and 1 running span task), computation (from the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test), patterns (function machine, number patterns), and algebraic word problems. Proficiencies on the patterns and computational tasks predicted algebraic proficiency. Proficiencies on the computational and patterns tasks are, in turn, predicted by updating capacity. These findings suggest that algebraic reasoning may be difficult if the child has poor updating capacity and either poor facility with computation or difficulty in recognizing and generalizing rules about patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-281
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Educational Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2011


  • working memory
  • cognitive development
  • academic achievement
  • mathematics
  • working-memory
  • children
  • skills

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