Addressing Misconceptions in Math Learning

Instructor: Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer

Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has taught math at a public charter high school.

After reading this lesson, you will know why addressing math misconceptions in your classroom is so important. You'll also learn some methods you can use to identify and then re-teach the misconceptions.

Math Misconceptions

Imagine that it is the beginning of a new school year and you are getting to know your 30 new math students. As you get to know your students, you find that only a few of them really understand math and are at an appropriate level for your class. The rest of the class, however, have math misconceptions that you have to address. These math misconceptions are misunderstandings when it comes to math. For example, instead of viewing the equal sign as a statement of equality, some students think of it as telling them they need to find an answer.

Math is one of those subjects where there can be a lot of misconceptions that you, as the math teacher, will come across and have to work with.

Math is one of those subjects that build on what a student has learned before
math misconceptions

Impact in the Classroom

These math misconceptions are actually a big deal in the math classroom because they don't allow your students to progress. Your students are essentially held back from learning new information. This is because math is one of those subjects where each class builds on the information learned from the previous class. For example, if your students don't fully understand the concept of applying math concepts to real world problems, they won't do well in higher math classes as more and more concepts become centered around these type of problems. Many word problems apply math concepts to solve real world problems.

So, what can you do?

Identifying the Misconceptions

The first and most important task that you have is to identify which math misconceptions your students have. You can do this with the help of a back-to-school assessment. Now, students generally don't like tests, and to start with a test right away when they get to school may not be the best welcome. But, there are other ways you can give an assessment. It doesn't have to be a written test. You can give casual oral assessments just by talking with your students and from observing your students in group work settings.

For example, let's say you begin the school year with conversations on various math topics. When you talk to your students about the various properties of parallel lines with an intersecting line, you find that two of your students, Jenny and Dave, don't quite know how to apply these properties to help them solve real world problems. In further conversations with these students, you find that their math misconception stems from way back in elementary school when they never understood how geometric shapes related to the real world. They are unable to link a real world problem to this math concept. Now that you've identified the problem, let's see what the next step is.

Re-teaching

Once you've identified the math misconceptions that your students have, then you'll need to find a way to incorporate the re-teaching of these misconceptions into your lessons. You might weave the re-teaching of some basic math into an introductory lesson on your topic.

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