Math Misconception

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School to School is an annual event hosted by Sekolah Ciputra and dedicated to educators who are willing to learn and share their professional learning with colleagues across East Java. This year, it was held on February 25th. Ms. Hestya and I took led a workshop about math misconceptions in the primary years. This area intrigues me, as I believe all Math concepts can be investigated and explained in a simple way and we don’t need to say  “this is the procedure, formula, or theory that you need to remember” to our students, which is the way I was taught. If our students understand how math works, rather than memorize formulas, they will love it.

We started the activity by giving a pretest to the workshop participants to identify misconceptions they had. It was surprising to me that no one answered all the questions correctly. Then we followed up with an activity designed to accommodate the needs of the participants and to refine their misconceptions. We discussed and investigated the following topics:

(1) What is a concept, a conception and a misconception?

(2) What forms of misconceptions occur in primary school?

(3) How do teachers respond to student misconceptions?

(4) What techniques are there to eliminate misconceptions?

To refine the participants’ understanding of Math concepts we did a gallery walk. One important thing that we shared is how Math pre-conceptions leads to further misconception. One example is:

  • Students get confused with the alligator/Pacman analogy. Is the bigger value eating the smaller one? Is it the value already eaten or about to be eaten? Do I add what it has eaten?


  • In helping students make sense of subtraction they are told to always take the smaller number away from the larger number.

4 – 8 = ?


From this workshop, I have learned that effective teachers understand that mistakes and confusion provide powerful learning opportunities.  I believe the quote below reminds us that misconceptions hinders inquiry.

“The worst thing about mnemonics is not that they almost always fall apart, they don’t encourage understanding, and never justify anything; it’s that they kill curiosity and creativity – two important character traits that too many math teachers out there disregard.” -Andy Martinson


PYP 6 Teacher and Year Level Coordinator


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