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Back to BlogMath Mythbusters! Part 1

It's amazing how many math myths are out there these days. Believing these myths can lead students (not to mention adults) to believe that math is "too hard," "not for them," or just plain unattainable. That's nonsense!

Let's bust some Math Myths, shall we?

Let's be clear about something: There isn't a gene that controls the development of mathematical thinking. Instead, there are probably hundreds of genes that contribute to our ability to reason mathematically. Moreover, a recent study suggests that mathematical thinking arises from our ability to learn a language.* Given the right input from the environment, children learn to speak without any formal instruction. The same is true for math.

Sometimes we get the right answer for the wrong reasons. Suppose I ask a student, "What is 4 divided by 2?" and she confidently answers, "2!" If she does not explain any further, I might assume that she understands how to divide whole numbers. But what if she used the following rule to solve that problem? Subtract 2 from 4 one time. Even though she gave the right answer, she has an incomplete understanding of division.

However, if I ask her to explain her reasoning, either by drawing a picture, creating a model, or giving me a different example, I will have a chance to remediate her flawed understanding. If teachers aren't exposed to their students' reasoning for both right and wrong answers, they won't be able to address misconceptions. This is important, because mathematics is cumulative and new lessons build upon previous understandings.

Stay tuned for more myth-busting, and the next time you hear a Math Myth like this from a student, parent, or even a friend, make sure you bust it!

*Devlin, K. J. (2000). The math gene: How mathematical thinking evolved and why numbers are like gossip. New York: Basic Books.

Ericsson, A., & Pool, R. (2016). Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Tenison, C., Fincham, J. M., & Anderson, J. R. (2016). Phases of learning: How skill acquisition impacts cognitive processing. Cognitive Psychology, 87, 1-28.

http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/09/just-how-visual-is-mathematical-thinking/500621/

- Dr. Bob Hausmann
- Author and Learning Technology Scientist

Dr. Bob joined Carnegie Learning in 2009 as a Cognitive Scientist. He received his PhD in Cognitive Psychology in 2005 from the University of Pittsburgh under the direction of Dr. Michelene T.H. Chi, and he received additional training at the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center (PSLC) as a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Kurt VanLehn and Dr. Timothy J. Nokes-Malach. In his spare time, Dr. Bob publishes a blog entitled Dr. Bob's Cog Blog, and is the author of the book Cognitive Science for Educators: Practical suggestions for an evidence-based classroom. The unifying theme that runs throughout all of these activities is a drive toward helping every student become an expert in a domain of her or his choice. When he isn’t thinking about cognitive science, which is rare, Dr. Bob enjoys long-distance running, mountain biking, and traveling with his wife.

Explore more related to this author- Amy Jones Lewis
- Senior Director Instructional Design
- Carnegie Learning, Inc.

Amy Jones Lewis brings her classroom expertise and passion for high-quality math instruction together as Carnegie Learning’s Senior Director of Content Design. In this role, she oversees the content development of Carnegie Learning’s instructional resources to meet the needs of students and teachers. Prior to this, she was the math specialist for Intermediate Unit 1, receiving more than $2M in grant funds to provide intensive professional development to K-8 teachers in southwestern PA. As a national consultant, Amy has contributed to projects at WestEd, Discovery Education, and other local organizations. She is the former Director of Educational Services at Carnegie Learning, where she worked with teachers and coaches across the country to successfully implement the Carnegie Learning blended math solutions. She began her career teaching high school mathematics in Malawi, Africa, and Baltimore City, MD, and has a Masters of Arts in Teaching from Johns Hopkins University.

Explore more related to this author- September 08, 2017

Everyone is a math person!

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