How do students think about algebra? Here we consider a theoretical framework which builds from natural human functioning in terms of embodiment – perceiving the world, acting on it and reflecting on the effect of the actions – to shift to the use of symbolism to solve linear equations. In the main, the students involved in this study do not encapsulate algebraic expressions from process to object, they do not solve ‘evaluation equations’ such as by ‘undoing’ the operations on the left, they do not find such equations easier to solve than , and they do not use general principles of ‘do the same thing to both sides.’ Instead they build their own ways of working based on the embodied actions they perform on the symbols, mentally picking them up and moving them around, with the added ‘magic’ of rules such as ‘change sides, change signs.’ We consider the need for a theoretical framework that includes both embodiment and process-object encapsulation of symbolism and the need for communication of theoretical insights to address the practical problems of teachers and students. \u
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