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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

Bob Hausmann received his PhD in Cognitive Psychology in 2005 from the University of Pittsburgh, and received additional training as a post-doctoral fellow at the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center (PSLC). Bob publishes a blog entitled *Dr. Bob's Cog Blog,* and is the author of *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.

- Amy Jones Lewis
- Senior Director Instructional Design
- Carnegie Learning, Inc.

Amy Jones Lewis taught in the Baltimore City Public Schools system, where she helped found a new innovation high school as part of a Gates Foundation Grant, taught with Carnegie Learning instructional materials, and increased student state test scores to twice the district average. Since then, she's spent 12 years deepening teachers’ content knowledge, assisting in the implementation of student-centered instructional strategies, and transitioning schools and teachers to the Standards for Mathematical Practice. As Senior Director Instructional Design, she incorporates her classroom expertise and mathematical content knowledge in the creation of innovative and student-centered instructional materials for teachers and students.

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