Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education


Date of this Version



Published in Mathematical Thinking and Learning 18:4 (2016), pp 239–270.

doi 10.1080/10986065.2016.1219930


Copyright © 2016 Taylor & Francis. Used by permission.


Research has found that elementary students face five main challenges in learning area measurement: (1) conserving area as a quantity, (2) understanding area units, (3) structuring rectangular space into composite units, (4) understanding area formulas, and (5) distinguishing area and perimeter. How well do elementary mathematics curricula address these challenges? A detailed analysis of three U.S. elementary textbook series revealed systematic deficits. Each presented area measurement in strongly procedural terms using a shared sequence of procedures across grades. Key conceptual principles were infrequently expressed and often well after related procedures were introduced. Particularly weak support was given for understanding how the multiplication of lengths produces area measures. The results suggest that the content of written curricula contributes to students’ weak learning of area measurement.