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In this article, we report the findings of a study conducted with 6 Grade 8 students in the United States. The students posed stories for open number sentences involving addition and subtraction of integers. We analysed the stories posed by the students to build models that describe the conceptual structures behind these posed stories – the conceptual models for integer addition and subtraction. These four conceptual models for thinking about and using integer addition and subtraction include Bookkeeping, Counterbalance, Relativity, and Translation, and are generated from the students’ posed stories. We also provide profiles of conceptual model use for two of the 6 students that describe how the students posed stories to accommodate conceptual model use, such as posing unconventional or unrealistic stories or changing the structure of the number sentences. The conceptual models and descriptions of how the students used them provide perspective into student thinking about integers and contexts, highlighting the mathematics of the students, and calling for a re-examination of contexts used in school mathematics.


This is an original manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in the International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology on November 14, 2019, available online: