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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/29712

Title: Secondary School Students’ Misconceptions in Algebra
Authors: Egodawatte Arachchige Don, Gunawardena
Advisor: McDougall, Douglas Emerson
Department: Curriculum, Teaching and Learning
Keywords: Secondary mathematics
Curriculum and instruction
Problem Solving
Issue Date: 30-Aug-2011
Abstract: This study investigated secondary school students’ errors and misconceptions in algebra with a view to expose the nature and origin of those errors and to make suggestions for classroom teaching. The study used a mixed method research design. An algebra test which was pilot-tested for its validity and reliability was given to a sample of grade 11 students in an urban secondary school in Ontario. The test contained questions from four main areas of algebra: variables, algebraic expressions, equations, and word problems. A rubric containing the observed errors was prepared for each conceptual area. Two weeks after the test, six students were interviewed to identify their misconceptions and their reasoning. In the interview process, students were asked to explain their thinking while they were doing the same problems again. Some prompting questions were asked to facilitate this process and to clarify more about students’ claims. The results indicated a number of error categories under each area. Some errors emanated from misconceptions. Under variables, the main reason for misconceptions was the lack of understanding of the basic concept of the variable in different contexts. The abstract structure of algebraic expressions posed many problems to students such as understanding or manipulating them according to accepted rules, procedures, or algorithms. Inadequate understanding of the uses of the equal sign and its properties when it is used in an equation was a major problem that hindered solving equations correctly. The main difficulty in word problems was translating them from natural language to algebraic language. Students used guessing or trial and error methods extensively in solving word problems. Some other difficulties for students which are non-algebraic in nature were also found in this study. Some of these features were: unstable conceptual models, haphazard reasoning, lack of arithmetic skills, lack or non-use of metacognitive skills, and test anxiety. Having the correct conceptual (why), procedural (how), declarative (what), and conditional knowledge (when) based on the stage of the problem solving process will allow students to avoid many errors and misconceptions. Conducting individual interviews in classroom situations is important not only to identify errors and misconceptions but also to recognize individual differences.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/29712
Appears in Collections:Doctoral

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