About cookies

The NCETM site uses cookies. Read more about our privacy policy

Please agree to accept our cookies. If you continue to use the site, we'll assume you're happy to accept them.


Personal Learning Login

Sign Up | Forgotten password?
Register with the NCETM

Secondary Magazine - Issue 129: Eyes Down

Created on 17 December 2015 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 02 February 2016 by ncetm_administrator


Secondary Magazine Issue 129'Me & My Camera' by Alyssa L. Miller (adapted), some rights reserved

Eyes Down

Misconception or Mistake?

by Mel Muldowney, a secondary school maths teacher working in Warwickshire

As teachers, we come across students’ work all the time that is just plain wrong. However it is important that we understand the difference between mistakes, which are generally due to carelessness (the student will have demonstrated the skill elsewhere correctly) and misconceptions, whereby a misleading idea is applied or a belief that a certain rule that applies in one set of circumstances will always apply.

Misconceptions are often deeply entrenched ideas which can prove stubborn to shift because at a cognitive level the disparity of what a student is being told conflicts with some earlier learned idea. Research suggests that teaching is more effective when misconceptions are identified, so I’ve been on the hunt for common misconceptions and lo-and-behold I found this example from a year 9 student:

Having spoken to the student it was evident from the response “oh yeah, obviously anything multiplied by zero is zero … what an idiot!” that one of these was a mistake brought about through lack of concentration and could have been avoided by them checking each stage of their working. When we discussed the second idea of “1 × 1 = 2” the student was adamant that it was correct and it wasn’t until we did a bit of “pattern sniffing” looking at 1 × 2, 2 × 2, 1 × 3, 2 × 3 etc that a look of realisation spread across his face.

What I’ve learnt is that identification of misconceptions isn’t enough - they need to be challenged directly with the student. Ignoring misconceptions should not be an option and to simply mark something wrong with an “×” often leaves the student knowing that something is wrong but may not necessarily leave them with the understanding required to address the matter.

If you have a thought-inducing picture, please send a copy (ideally, about 1-2Mb) to us at info@ncetm.org.uk with ‘Secondary Magazine Eyes Down’ in the email subject line. Include a note of where and when it was taken, and any comments on it you may have. If your picture is published, we’ll send you a £20 voucher.

Image credit
Page header by Alyssa L. Miller (adapted), some rights reserved



Download the magazine as a PDF
Secondary Magazine Archive
Magazine Feed - keep informed of forthcoming issues
Departmental Workshops - Structured professional development activities
Explore the Secondary Forum
Contact us - share your ideas and comments 


Comment on this item  
Add to your NCETM favourites
Remove from your NCETM favourites
Add a note on this item
Recommend to a friend
Comment on this item
Send to printer
Request a reminder of this item
Cancel a reminder of this item



There are no comments for this item yet...
Only registered users may comment. Log in to comment