Why 'scaffolding' is the wrong metaphor: the cognitive usefulness of mathematical representations.

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The metaphor of scaffolding has become current in discussions of the cognitive help we get from artefacts, environmental affordances and each other. Consideration of mathematical tools and representations indicates that in these cases at least (and plausibly for others), scaffolding is the wrong picture, because scaffolding in good order is immobile, temporary and crude. Mathematical representations can be manipulated, are not temporary structures to aid development, and are refined. Reflection on examples from elementary algebra indicates that Menary is on the right track with his ‘enculturation’ view of mathematical cognition. Moreover, these examples allow us to elaborate his remarks on the uniqueness of mathematical representations and their role in the emergence of new thoughts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3743-3756
Number of pages14
Issue number9
Early online date4 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2020


  • mathematical cognition
  • enculturation
  • scaffolding
  • algebra
  • notations
  • diagrams
  • Geometry


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