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Summary of Misconceptions about

Decimal Numbers
Misconceptions can be diagnosed by listening and watching carefully when a child
answers strategically designed tasks. One of the simplest and best tasks for this topic is
to select the larger from pairs of decimals. Because this is such a good task, the
misconceptions have been organized in three groups according to how the child orders
decimals. Other tasks useful for revealing students' thinking are presented in teaching.

Contents of this page

Longer-is-larger misconceptions • Whole number thinking
These students generally think a longer • Column overflow thinking
decimal is a larger number than a • Zero makes small thinking
shorter decimal
• Reverse thinking
Shorter-is-larger misconceptions • Denominator focussed
These students generally think a shorter thinking
decimal is a larger number than a longer • Reciprocal thinking
• Negative thinking
Apparent-expert behavior • Equalizing length with
These students can generally decide zeros
which of two decimals is larger but • Left to right comparison
sometimes not for the right reasons. • Money thinking
• Special difficulties with

Consistency of students' thinking

Do these misconceptions persist? Do they matter?

Longer-is-larger misconceptions
These students generally pick longer decimals to be larger numbers. There are a variety
of reasons why they do this. Some children have not adequately made the decimal-
fraction link and others have place value difficulties. The most common reasons for
longer-is-larger behavior are outlined below. Longer-is-larger misconceptions are most
common in primary school, with about 40% of Grade 5 students interpreting decimals
this way, diminishing to about 5% by Year 10 (see research data).

Whole Number Thinking

Learners with this way of thinking assume that digits after the decimal point make
another whole number. They have not effectively made the decimal-fraction link. Our
data indicates that 30% of Grade 5 students are thinking this way, although figures as
high as 60% of Grade 5 at some schools have been recorded.

At one extreme, some children see the decimal point as separating two quite separate
whole numbers. For example, instead of thinking of a decimal number such as 4.8 or
4.63 as a number between 4 and 5, they may see the numbers as two separated whole
numbers 4 and 8 or 4 and 63. If asked to circle the larger of the two numbers, such a
child might circle the 63 only, instead of either 4.8 or 4.63. These children are rare and
need individual remedial help.

More commonly, children who have not completely made the decimal-fraction link will
think of two different types of whole numbers making up a decimal such as 4.63:

perhaps 4 "whole numbers" and 63 more bits of unspecified size,

perhaps as 4 "whole numbers" with a remainder of 63
perhaps as 4 "whole numbers" and 63 of another unit, rather like 4 goals and 63
behinds in Australian Rules football or even as 4 dollars and 63 cents.

Read more about analogies to money, sport and remainders in division.

Whole number thinkers are likely to expect that the number after 4.9 (4 wholes and 9
parts) is 4.10 (4 wholes and 10 parts). Click here to see how such a child is likely to
count. They are also likely to have difficulty coordinating the number of parts and the
size of the parts in a fraction, because they do not understand the decimal-fraction link.
If the predominant discussion in the classroom is with decimals of equal length, the
misconception is not challenged, and may continue to secondary school.

There are some variations in the way whole number thinkers order decimals. Sometimes
these students select just on length alone, e.g. they will pick 0.021 to be larger than 0.21
just because it is longer. Other students look more carefully at the decimal part as a
whole number, so that they will think that 0.21 and 0.0021 are equal, because the two
whole numbers 21 and 0021 are equal. Click here to see a case study of 'Caitlin', who is
a whole number thinker like this.

Column overflow thinking

Some students will usually choose longer decimals as larger, but will make correct
choices when the initial decimal digits are zero. For example, these children will say
0.43 is greater than 0.5 but will know that 0.043 is smaller than 0.5. One group of these
students, called column overflow thinkers, have made the decimal-fraction link but have
trouble with fundamentals of place value. Column overflow thinkers have learnt the
correct column names for decimal numbers, but attempt to write too many digits into a
column. So 0.12 is 12 tenths (as there is no zero after the point) while 0.012 is 12
hundredths (as there is one zero after the point). In effect, they squeeze the number 12
into one column. This is why we call it column overflow.

Column overflow thinkers interpret 0.35 as 35 tenths, 0.149 as 149 tenths and 0.678912
as 678912 tenths, 0.035 as 35 hundredths, 0.0149 as 149 hundredths and 0.0043 as 43
thousandths. This thinking generally leads to choosing the longer decimals as larger
except when there are zeros in the first decimal places.

These difficulties are like the difficulties shown by small children learning to count who
often say:" . . sixty six, sixty seven, sixty eight, sixty nine, sixty ten, sixty eleven, sixty

Similarly when children first learn to add, they may put more than one digit in each
place value column:

14 +

Understanding how to rename this number from "sixty twelve" (arrived at by the
addition) to seventy two depends on understanding the relationships between the place
values of the columns. Ten in the units column gives one in the tens column. Column
overflow thinkers may have mastered this idea for whole numbers, but need to learn it
again for the decimal positions.

Column overflow thinking also arise simply by "forgetting" which column name to take
when describing the decimal as a fraction. Instead of getting the name from the
rightmost column (in this case the hundredths, as 0.35 is 35 hundredths) the student may
just take the name from the leftmost column (the tenths).

Click here to see a case study of 'Brad', a column overflow thinker.

Zero Makes Small Thinking

Some children who order decimals in the same way as column overflow thinkers (above)
actually seem to know little at all about place value. These zero-makes-small thinkers
may have very little idea of the decimal as representing a fractional part. They respond
to many of questions as do whole number thinkers. They know, however, just one thing
more than do whole number thinkers - that a decimal starting with zero in the tenths
column is smaller than one which does not. For example, they will know that 0.21 is
larger than 0.0021 or 0.012345. Unlike whole number thinkers, they therefore can
choose that 0.0762 is smaller than 0.53 correctly. A child with this misconception will
order decimals in the same way as a column overflow thinker, but talking to them will
reveal the differences.

Reverse Thinking

Some children do not know that the place value of the columns decreases when we move
to the right. They know there is a similarity between the patterns of column names on
the right and the left, but may assume they are the same. Occasionally this results in a
child thinking that the names for the place value columns are the same on both sides of
the decimal point:

...., hundreds, tens, ones, tens, hundreds, thousands, ....

Therefore 0.428 may mean 4 tens + 2 hundreds + 8 thousands, or possibly 4 ones + 2

tens + 8 hundreds if another ones column has been inserted after the decimal point "for
symmetry". These students might select 0.35 as larger than 0.41 because 53 is larger
than 14 or because 530 is larger than 140. Click here to see a case study of a reverse
thinker, 'Tuyet' .

There seem to be two causes for this thinking pattern. A few children, especially
younger children, may have very little idea of fractions and have not begun to appreciate
numbers less than one. More likely, hearing difficulties or language background is the
cause. Often a child with this misconception has not heard the "th" sound in the column
names; so rather than tenths, hundredths and thousandths, they believe that there are
more tens, hundreds and thousands to the right of the decimal point. Judgments about
the size of the decimal number are affected by what are perceived to be the columns
with the largest value, that is the most-right columns.

The final "ths" sound is often missed by children from language backgrounds where a
final "s" or "ths" is not a normal sound. Tenths sounds very similar
to tens, hundredths to hundredsetc. Teachers must be very clear in speech and
writing. Click here for more information.

Shorter-is-larger misconceptions
These students generally pick shorter decimals to be larger numbers. There are a variety
of reasons why they do this. The first reason is inability to coordinate the numerator and
denominator of a fraction; the others are related to students drawing false analogies with
fractions and negative numbers. Our research data shows that at any one time, about
10% of students in all grades from 5 to 10 have shorter-is-larger misconceptions.

Denominator focussed thinking

These students often have a good knowledge of place value names, but they have
difficulty coordinating the size of the numerator and denominator of a fraction. They
understand, for example, that 0.4 =4 tenths and that 0.83= 83 hundredths. They also
know that tenths are larger than hundredths. They wrongly conclude that 0.4 is greater
than 0.83 because they think only about the size of the parts (the tenths or hundredths)
and cannot simultaneously consider how many parts there are. This is why we call them
"denominator-focussed" thinkers. These children need more help with coordinating the
influence of the numerator and denominator for fractions (see decimal-
fraction link).Click here to see a case study of 'Ricardo', a denominator focussed
thinker. Click here to see how he is likely to count with decimals.

Students who use denominator focussed thinking are aware of the place value of
decimals, but cannot readily move between the various forms of decimals that are
evident using expanded notation. For instance, Nesher and Peled (1986, p73) report an
interview with an Israeli denominator-focussed child who was explaining why 4.45 was
chosen as greater than 4.4502:

"Up to here (points to the 4.45 part) it's the same number, this zero doesn't make a
difference, but here the 2 (4.4502) is ten-thousandths and here (4.45) it's hundredths, so
hundredths that's bigger."

So the child has a strong vision of the decimal parts of the numbers as 45 hundredths and
4502 ten thousandths but doesn't also see the latter in the partially expanded form 45
hundredths + 2 ten thousandths.

The percentage of denominator focussed students in our Australian sample is about 4%

in Grades 5 and 6 and then decreases to 1% of Year 10.

Reciprocal thinking

Another reason for shorter-is-larger thinking is that children are trying to interpret
decimal notation in terms of the more familiar fraction notation. They have made the
decimal-fraction link but, unlike the denominator-focussed thinkers above, they do not
consider place value. They see the decimal part as the denominator of a fraction, with
larger denominators creating smaller fractions. For example, they think that 0.12 is
something like 1/12 (they may not think it is really the same) and 0.3456 is something
like 1/3456. The consequence of this is that they act as if longer decimals give smaller

They know that 12 < 3456,

so they know that 1/12 > 1/3456
so they conclude that 0.12 > 0.3456

Students with this misconception can be distinguished from others when they are asked
to choose the larger of two decimals of equal length such as 0.3 and 0.4. They choose
0.3 (because 1/3 is larger than 1/4). For this reason, we call them reciprocal thinkers.
(Seeglossaryfor reciprocal)

Such a student may interpret 2.6 as being like two and one sixth or as 2/6. For a question
which asked students to write a decimal to tell what part of a region was shaded, more
than 25% of Grade 7 students in a national survey of students in the USA wrote 1.5 for
1/5 and 1.4 for 1/4. (Hiebert, 1985). Many students exhibit confusion between fraction
and decimal notation. Carpenter et al (1981) report the results of a large sample of 13
year-old children in the USA On a multiple-choice question which asked for the decimal
equivalent of 1/5 only 38% answered correctly, whilst just as many students (38%)
chose 0.5.

Because decimals do not explicitly show the denominator, (the value is instead indicated
by the place), it is likely that some students will assume that the numbers written
represent the denominator, rather than the numerator of the associated fraction.

Click here to see a case study of 'Courtney' who thinks like this. Click here to see how
Courtney is likely to count.

Confusion in high places

Confusion between fractions and decimals/percents even happens in high places. When
President Clinton was opening the G8 summit in 1997 he was reported to make the
following statement about the USA, intending to show that it had more than a fair share
of wealth in the world, but saying, instead, that it has approximately a fair share.
"We are now slightly less than one-fifth of the world's population, but we have
slightly more than 20% of the world's wealth and income. This is not a matter
requiring Einstein to calculate."

The population of the USA is in fact slightly less than 5% of the world's population, not
one-fifth at all. Has someone important has confused 5% and 1/5?

(Source: Guardian Weekly, June 28 1997, p3)

Negative thinking

When Voula, a Year 9 student, was asked to indicate how long 0.9 of a metre was, she
paused for a long time before stretching out her arm and pointing to the left saying:

"It is a long way, but in the other direction".

Voula was confusing the length 0.9m, with 9 metres in some sort of negative/opposite

Anita, a tertiary student, explained why she had chosen 0.20 to be larger than 0.35

"I was thinking along a number line and considering decimal numbers to be equivalent
to negative numbers. Therefore -20 was larger than -35".

With the pair 2.516 and 2.8325, Anita explained:

"I felt more comfortable selecting the number with the least digits as I though the longer
the number, the further it was down the number line in the negative direction."

Irwin (1996) , working in New Zealand, also described children who were confused
about negatives and decimals. When they were asked to put numbers on a number line:

some students placed all decimals below zero

e.g. 1.43, 1.5, 1.4, 0.01, 0.1, 0.9, 0.5, 0, 1, 2
whereas others only put the "zero point " decimals below zero
e.g. 0.10, 0.01, 0.9 , 0.5, 0, 1, 2, 1.4, 1.5, 1.43

This confusion is obviously more likely to occur after students have worked with
negative numbers at school (Year 7/8 on), but it also occurs in younger children.
Elizabeth, a Grade 6 girl whose understanding of decimals otherwise appeared very
sound placed the numbers 0.149 and 0.65 on a number line in the positions of -0.149 and
Like reciprocal thinkers, these negative thinkers will generally choose shorter decimals
as larger.

Negative thinkers know that 12 < 18

so they know that -12 > -18
so they conclude that 0.12 > 0.18

Why might decimals and negatives be confused? We speculate that the reason for a
confusion of decimals/fractions and negatives is psycholinguistic in origin. They both
arise as opposites, as "inverses" of cognitively "positive" operations which make
numbers bigger. Decimals (and fractions) arise from division, the inverse of
multiplication. Negatives arise from subtraction, the inverse of addition. So, in a sense,
negatives and decimals/fractions are both ways of being opposite of positive and big.
Both 1/3 and -3 arise as "opposites" of 3, the primary quantity.

To stop this confusion, be sure that children's ideas of decimals become well
consolidated, e.g. by using decimals in many areas of mathematics. When teaching
about negative numbers, be especially sure not to use whole numbers only (i.e. -3, -4,
-10) but be certain to include a wide range of numbers ( -3.6, - 2/3, -0.01, -118.6) so that
the different concepts are juxtaposed. Paradoxically, keeping concepts isolated one from
the other can be a cause of confusion, rather than helping students to keep them separate
in their minds.

Negative thinkers may have forgotten about the decimal-fraction link; this having been
overtaken by interference from new knowledge, rather than have never having known
about it. Why should students confuse decimals and negatives? As noted elsewhere, the
place value names are, to an extent, symmetric around the ones column. This seems to
remind some older students of the way in which the positive and negative parts of the
number line are symmetric about zero. This may dispose some of them to interpret
decimals as negative numbers. (Click here for more information). Another way of
reducing this confusion is to use vertical as well as horizontal number lines.

To separate students using negative thinking from those using reciprocal thinking
requires the inclusion of comparisons with zero in a task. The Zero Test was devised to
do just this, and complements the original Decimal Comparison Test. Our research
data was collected using the original Decimal Comparison Test, however, so only the
combined incidence of these 2 groups can be reported, accounting for 5% to 8% of
students from Grade 5 to Year 10.

Apparent-expert behavior
Students in this category can generally decide which of two decimals is larger. Of
course, many of these students are true experts, with a good understanding of decimal
notation. Other students follow one of the two correct rules, (by equalizing with zeros or
comparing from left to right - see below) but discussion with them shows that the rules
are not supported by understanding. Others (such as the money thinkers and students
who have special difficulties with zero) may have good pragmatic skills, but in reality
very little understanding. A variety of tasks are needed to decide how much
understanding they possess. Our Australian research data shows that about a quarter of
Grade 5 students are experts but this rises to only about two thirds of Year 10 students.

Equalizing length with zeros

Equalizing length with zeros is probably the most common strategy taught in Australian
schools, although it is used infrequently in other countries, such as Japan. To find out
which of two decimals is the larger, add zeros to the shorter until they have the same
lengths and then compare as whole numbers. For example, to compare 0.4 and 0.457,
add zeros to 0.4 to get three decimal places (0.400) and then compare 400 with 457. This
strategy always works for comparing decimals.

In our research, we have seen many well-taught children who correctly follow this rule
but talking to them reveals a wide range of misconceptions. They know the rule, but do
not understand it. Some will forget the rule fairly quickly if it is not taught with

Left to right comparison

This correct strategy is to compare columns from left to right, until a digit in one
decimal is larger than the corresponding digit in the other (and the first will then be
larger than the second), OR until one decimal stops (which will then be the shorter one,
except in the case of zeros).

An example: to compare 23.873 with 23.86

Tens Ones Tenths Hundredths Thousandths

2 3 8 7 3
2 3 8 6
same same same top is larger so stop

Like the other correct strategies, this strategy can be taught as a rule to follow without
understanding. The Hidden Numbers computer game enables a teacher to see whether
children are using this strategy.

Money thinking
Some students may appear to be experts, but in reality have very little understanding of
decimal place value and its fractional aspects. These students are usually able to deal
with decimals in everyday life because they understand one and two decimal place
numbers well. Many of these students relate them to money. For example, they think of
4.63 as 4 dollars and 63 cents. They think of 4.8 as 4 dollars and 80 cents. With this as a
model, they are able to carry out many tasks.

Money thinkers apparently have a good understanding of the first two decimal places,
but are not sure of the order of other numbers on the number line. One tertiary student,
for example, when asked to place numbers between 3.14 and 3.15 on a number line drew
this, not realizing that she had omitted 3.141, 3.142, 3.143 and 3.144:

3.14 3.145 3.146 3.147 3.148 3.149 3.15

She repeatedly omitted some numbers in several similar tasks, and admitted that she was
unsure of her answers. Furthermore, she had little idea about the general relationships
between the place value columns. Other students have told us that numbers such as 4.45
and 4.4502 are really equal. These students (in fact some are adults) may believe that the
extra digits on the end are 'mis-hits' and shouldn't really be there; in effect their number
system is discrete with integer numbers of cents. Click here to see a case study of 'Maria'
who relies on the analogy with money.

Not all of these students think of money - some have other similar models such as
percentages. Many of them will not realise that they have a problem with decimals. They
do not appreciate that there are an infinite number of decimals between any two others

Money is a useful but limited way of thinking about decimals. Using the money analogy
can mask misunderstanding. Care needs to be taken in teaching decimals with
money. Click herefor more information on money as an analogy for decimals.

Special difficulties with zero

Amongst the group of students who seem to be very good with decimals, there are some
who have particular trouble with zero. They may be able to correctly describe the
relative sizes of all decimals except when one is equal to zero, when they reveal that
they think that all "zero point something" decimals are less than zero. This may be
negative thinking (described above) but it can also be due to overgeneralisation of place
value ideas and confusion of the place value columns with a number line.

These students may observe that the number 0 belongs to the "ones" column in place
value terms, and since this column is to the left of the decimal columns (tenths etc) it is
larger than numbers such as 0.6, which start in the tenths. These students may think that
0.6 is less than 0, but may know that 0.6 is greater than 0.0 or 0.00 etc. For these
students, the whole number 0 is different from the decimal 0.0 or 0.00. This
demonstrates the importance of teaching which presents a variety of examples and
numbers in many forms. The Zero Comparison Test was created to detect any such
difficulties that students may have.

Hundreds Tens Ones Tenths Hundredths Thousandths

0. 0 0
0. 6

Consistency of students' thinking

It is often very surprising how closely students' answers follow the predictions made
above across a range of tasks. Many children are "hooked" onto their wrong ways of
thinking because, as has been shown above, they produce right answers to a lot of
questions. Students (and also teachers) can think that they have just "made a careless
mistake" on the other questions, without realizing how seriously flawed their ideas are.

Although children may have a particular interpretation of a mathematical topic, they

usually do not appreciate all of its consequences. So their thinking may appear to be
inconsistent. For example, a column overflow thinker may think 0.03526 is 3526
hundredths and 0.35 is 35 tenths. However, they might decide that 3536 hundredths is
smaller than 35 tenths because they cannot coordinate the size of parts and the number
of parts of a fraction.

Often children hold a range of ideas - sometimes mutually contradictory - using them
according to circumstances. This makes diagnosing a child's difficulties more tricky, but
interesting. Partially formed ideas can change in the course of an interview with a
researcher or a discussion with a teacher.

Learning the text book cases helps a teacher quickly pick up

on children's thinking in the hurly burly real-time events of
the classroom.

The misconception categories described above account for a very large proportion
of the students. However, there are other ways of combining ideas and drawing
analogies with other learning that are not fully described in this summary (several
others are given by Stacey and Steinle (1998)) and others that may not yet be

Some students complete tasks such as the Decimal Comparison Test using rather vague
guiding principles, which vary from item to item and from the beginning of the task to
the end. Thinking about the task may make them adjust their ideas, so their thinking at
the end of the task is different to that at the beginning. About 30% of students
completing the Decimal comparison Test seem to waver between ideas, so that their
thinking cannot be classified (Seeresearch data.)

A correct understanding of money embodies the value of coin currency as
non-corre¬lated with its size.
Misconception: At the PreK level, children hold a core misconception about money and
the value of coins. Students think nickels are more valuable than dimes because nickels
are bigger.
Subtraction (Brown & Burton, 1978; Siegler, 2003; Williams & Ryan, 2000)
Correct understanding of subtraction includes the notion that the columnar order (top to
bottom) of the problem cannot be reversed or flipped.
Misconception #1: Students (age 7) have a “smaller-from-larger” error (miscon¬ception)
that subtraction entails subtracting the smaller digit in each column from the larger digit
regardless of which is on top.

143 83

-28 -37

125 54
Misconception #2: When subtracting from 0 (when the minuend includes a zero), there
are two subtypes of misconceptions:

307 856 606 308 835

-182 -699 -568 -287 -217

285 157 168 181 618

Misconception a - Flipping the two numbers in the column with the 0.
In problem “307-182,” 0 – 8 is treated as 8 – 0, exemplified by a student who wrote “8 ”
as the answer.
Misconception b - Lack of decrementing; or not decrementing the number to the left of
the 0 (due to first bug above, wherein nothing was borrowed from this column.) In
problem “307-182,” this means not reducing the 3 to 2.
Correct understanding of multiplication includes the knowledge that multiplication does
not always increase a num¬ber.
Misconception - Students have a misconception that multiplication always increas¬es a
number. For example, take the number 8:
3 x 8 = 24
5 x 8 = 40
This impedes students’ learning of the multiplication of a (positive) number by a fraction
less than one, such as ½ x 8 = 4.
Misconception comes in the form of “division as sharing” (Nunes & Bryant, 1996), or the
“primitive, partitive model of division” (Tirosh, 2000). In this model, an object or collection
of objects is divided into a number of equal parts or sub collections (e.g., Five friends
bought 15 lbs. of cookies and shared them equally. How many pounds of cookies did
each person get?). The primitive partitive model places three constraints on the
operation of division:
1. The divisor (the number by which a dividend is divided) must be a whole
2. The divisor must be less than the dividend; and
3. The quotient (the result of the division problem) must be less than the dividend.
Hence, children have difficulty with the following two problems because they vio¬late the
“dividend is always greater than the divisor constraint” (Tirosh, 2002):
1. “A five-meter-long stick was divided into 15 equal sticks. What is the length of
each stick?”
A common incorrect response to this problem is 15 divided by 5. (instead of the
correct 5 divided by 15).
2. “Four friends bought ¼ kilogram of chocolate and shared it equally. How much
chocolate did each person get?”
A common incorrect response to this problem is 4 x ¼ or 4 divided by 4 (instead
of the correct ¼ divided by 4).
Similarly, children have difficulty with the following problem because the primitive,
partitive model implies that “division always makes things smaller” (Tirosh, 2002).
3. “Four kilograms of cheese were packed in packages of ¼ kilogram each. How
many packages contained this amount of cheese?”
Because of this belief they do not view division as a possible operation for solv¬ing this
word problem. They incorrectly choose the expression “1/4 X 4 ” as the answer (See
Fischbein, Deri, Nello, & Marino, 1985).
This “primitive, partitive” model interferes with children’s ability to divide fractions –
because students believe you cannot divide a small number by a larger number, as it
would be impossible to share less among more.
Indeed, even teacher trainees can have this preconception of division “as shar¬ing.”
Teachers were unable to provide contexts for the following problem (Goulding. Rowland,
& Barber, 2002):
2 divided by ¼
Negative Numbers
(See Williams & Ryan, 2000)
The correct conception of negative numbers is that these are numbers less than zero.
They are usually written by indicating their opposite, which is a positive number, with a
preceding minus sign.
A Separation Misconception means treating the two parts of the number – the minus
sign and the number – separately. In number lines, the scale may be marked: -20, -30,
0, 10, 20...(because the ordering is 20 then 30, and the minus sign is at¬tached
afterwards) and later the sequence gets -4 inserted thus: -7, -4, 1,...(be¬cause the
sequence is read 1, 4, 7 and the minus sign is afterwards attached). Similarly, we can
explain: -4 + 7 = -11
(See misconception examples above and Hartnett & Gelman, 1998)
The correct conception of a fraction is of the division of one cardinal number by another.
Children start school with an understanding of counting – that numbers are what one
gets when one counts collections of things (the counting principles). Students have
moved towards using counting words and other symbols that are numerically
meaningful. The numbering of fractions is not consistent with the counting principles,
including the idea that numbers result when sets of things are counted and that addition
involves putting two sets together. One cannot count things to generate a fraction. A
fraction, as noted, is defined as the division of one cardinal number by another.
Moreover, some counting principles do not apply to fractions. For example, one cannot
use counting based algorithms for ordering fractions – ¼ is not more than ½. In addition,
the nonverbal and verbal counting principles do not map to the tripartite symbolic
representations of fractions (two cardinal numbers separated by a line).

Misconceptions reflect children’s tendency to distort fractions in order to fit their

counting-based number theory, instead of viewing a fraction as a new kind of number.
Misconception #1: Student increase the values of denominator maps in order to increase
quantitative values.
This includes a natural number ordering rule for fractions that is based on cardinal
values of the denominator (See Hartnett & Gelman, 1998)
Misconception #2: When adding fractions, the process is to add the two numera¬tors to
form the sum’s numerator and then add the two denominators to form its denominator.
Example: Elementary and high school students think ¼ is larger than ½ because 4 is
more than 2 and they seldom read ½ correctly as “one half.” Rather, they use a variety
of alternatives, including “one and two, ” “one and a half,” “one plus two, ” “twelve,” and
“three.” (See Gelman, Cohen, & Hartnett, 1989, cited in Hartnett & Gelman, 1998),
Example ½ +1/3 = 2/5 (See Siegler, 2003)
The correct understanding of the decimal system is of a numeration system based on
powers of 10. A number is written as a row of digits, with each posi¬tion in the row
corresponding to a certain power of 10. A decimal point in the row divides it into those
powers of 10 equal to or greater than 0 and those less than 0, i.e., negative powers of
10. Positions farther to the left of the decimal point correspond to increasing positive
powers of 10 and those farther to the right to increasing negative powers, i.e., to division
by higher positive powers of 10.
For example,
4,309=(4×103)+(3x102)+(0×101)+(9×100)=4,000+300+0+9, and
A number written in the decimal system is called a decimal, although sometimes this
term is used to refer only to a proper fraction written in this system and not to a mixed
number. Decimals are added and subtracted in the same way as in¬tegers (whole
numbers), except that when these operations are written in colum¬nar form, the decimal
points in the column entries and in the answer must all be placed one under another. In
multiplying two decimals, the operation is the same as for integers except that the
number of decimal places in the product (i.e., digits to the right of the decimal point) is
equal to the sum of the decimal places in the factors (e.g., the factor 7.24 to two decimal
places and the factor 6.3 to one decimal place have the product 45.612 to three decimal
places). In division, (e.g., 4.32|12.8), a decimal point in the divisor (4.32) is shifted to the
extreme right (i.e., to 432.) and the decimal point in the dividend (12.8) is shifted the
same number of places to the right (to 1280), with one or more zeros added before the
decimal to make this possible. The decimal point in the quotient is then placed above
that in the dividend, i.e., 432|1280.0 and zeros are added to the right of the decimal point
in the dividend as needed. The division proceeds the same as for integers.
Misconception #1: Students often use a “separation strategy,” whereby they separate
the whole (integer) and decimal as different entities. They treat the two parts before and
after the decimal point as separate entities. This has been seen in pupils (Williams &
Ryan, 2000), as well as in beginning pre-service teachers (Ryan & McCrae, 2005).
Division by 100:
300.62 divided by 100
Correct Answer = 3.0062
Misconception Answer = 3.62
Example: When given 7.7, 7.8, 7.9, students continue the scale with 7.10, 7.11.
Misconception #2: This relates to the ordering of decimal fractions from largest to
smallest (Resnick et al., 1989; Sackur-Grisvard, & Leonard, 1985). This miscon¬ception
is also seen in primary teacher trainees (Goulding et al., 2002). Here is an example of a
mistaken ordering:
0.203 2.35 X 10-2; two hundreths 2.19 X 10 -1; one fifth
A lack of connection exists in the knowledge base between different forms of numerical
expressions AND difficulties with more than two decimal places.
Misconception a: The larger/longer number is the one with more digits to the right of the
deci¬mal point, i.e. 3.214 is greater than 3.8 (Resnick et al., 1989; Sackur-Grisvard &
Leonard,1985; Siegler, 2003) This is known as the “whole number rule” because
children are using their knowledge of whole number val¬ues in comparing decimal
fractions (Resnick et al., 1989). Whole number errors derive from students’ applying
rules for interpreting multi-digit integers. Children using this rule appear to have little
knowledge of decimal numbers. Their repre¬sentation of the place value system does
not contain the critical information of column values, column names, and the role of zero
as a placeholder (see Resn¬ick et al., 1989).
Misconception b: The “largest/longest decimal is the smallest (the one with the fewest
digits to the right of decimal).” Misconception- given the pairs 1.35 and 1.2, 1.2 is viewed
as greater. 2.43 judged larger than 2.897 (Mason & Ruddock, 1986; cited in Goulding et
al., 2002, Resnick et al., 1989; Sackur-Grisvard & Leonard, 1985; Siegler, 2003; & Ryan
& McCrae) This is known as the “fraction” rule because children appear to be relying on
ordinary fraction notation and their knowledge of the relation between size of parts and
number of parts (Resnick et al., 1989). Fraction errors derive from children’s attempts to
interpret decimals as fractions. For instance, if they know that thousandths are smaller
parts than hun¬dredths, and that three-digit decimals are read as thousandths, whereas
two-digit decimals are read as hundredths, they may infer that longer decimals, because
they refer to smaller parts, must have lower values (Resnick et al., 1989). These children
are not able to coordinate information about the size of parts with in¬formation about the
number of parts; when attending to size of parts (specified by the number of columns)
they ignored the number of parts (specified by the digits).
Misconception c: Students make incorrect judgments about ordering numbers that
include decimal points when one number has one or more zeros immediate¬ly to the
right of the decimal point or has other digits to the right of the decimal point. Hence, in
ordering the following three numbers (3.214, 3.09, 3.8), a student correctly chooses the
number with the zero as the smallest, but then resorts to “the larger number is the one
with more digits to the right” rule (i. e., 3.09, 3.8, 3.214) (Resnick et al., 1989; Sackur-
Grisvard & Leonard, 1985). This is known as the “zero rule” because it appears to be
generated by children who are aware of the place-holder function of zero, but do not
have a fully developed place value structure. As a result, they apply their knowledge of
zero being very small to a conclusion that the entire decimal must be small (See Resnick
et al.,1989).
Misconception #3: Multiplication of Decimals Example: 0.3 X 0.24
Correct Answer = 0.072
Misconception Answer: Multiply 3 x 24 and adjust two decimal points. 0.72 (This is seen
in the beginning instruction of pre-service teachers as well.)
Misconception #4: Units, tenths and hundredths
Example: Write in decimal form: 912 + 4/100
Correct Answer = 912.04
Misconception Answer = 912.004
Misconception 4/100 is ¼ or 100 divided by 4 gives the decimal or 1/25 is 0.25 = 912.25
Overgeneralization of Conceptions Developed for ‘Whole Numbers’ (cited in Williams &
Ryan, 2000)
Misconception #1: Ignoring the minus or % sign.
Errors such as: 4 + - 7 = -11; -10 + 15 = 25
Misconception #2: Thinking that zero is the lowest number
Misconception #1: Incorrect generalization or extension of correct rules
Siegler (2003) provides the following example:
The distributive principle indicates that
a x (b + c) = (a x b) + (a x c)
Some students erroneously extend this principle on the basis of superficial simi¬larities
and produce:
a + (b x c) = (a + b) x ( a + c)
Misconception #2: Variable Misconception
Correct understanding of variables means that a student knows that letters in equations
represent, at once, a range of unspecified numbers/values.
It is very common for middle school students to have misconceptions about core
concepts in algebra, including concepts of a variable (Kuchemann 78; Knuth, Alibali,
McNeil, Weinberg, & Stephens, 2005; MacGregor & Stacey, 1997; Rosnick, 1981). This
misconception can begin in the early elementary school years and then persist through
the high school years.
There are several levels or kinds of variable misconceptions:
1. Variable Misconception: Level 1
A letter is assigned one numerical value from the outset
2. Variable Misconception: Level 3
A letter is interpreted as a label for an object or as an object itself

At a university, there are six times as many students as professors. This fact
is represented by the equation S = 6P. In this equation, what does the letter
S stand for?
a. number of students (Correct)
b. professors
c. students (Misconception)
d. none of the above
Misconception #3: Equality Misconception
Correct understanding of equivalence (the equal sign) is the “relational” view of the equal
sign. This means understanding that the equal sign is a symbol of equivalence (i.e., a
symbol that denotes a relationship between two quantities).
Students exhibit a variety of misconceptions about equality (Falkner, Levi, & Carpenter,
1999; Kieran, 1981,1992; Knuth et al., 2005; McNeil & Alibali, 2005; Steinberg, Sleeman,
& Ktorza,1990; Williams & Ryan, 2000). The equality misconception is also evident in
adults, like college students (McNeil & Alibali, 2005).
a. Students do not understand the concept of “equivalent equations” and basic principles
of transforming equations. Often, they do not know how to keep both sides of the
equation equal. So, they do not add/subtract equally from both sides of the equal sign.
In solving x + 3 = 7, a next step could be
A. x + 3 – 3 = 7 – 3 (Correct)
B. x + 3 + 7 = 0
C. = 7 – 3 (Misconception)
D. .3x = 7
b. It is assumed that the answer (solu¬tion) is the number after the equal sign (i.e.,
answer on the right)

Common misconceptions – Exploring fractions

This module focuses on the work of pupil A to model the process of identifying,
predicting, uncovering and tackling misconceptions.

Examine pupil A's responses to his work in class, which are shown below.

Question 4 above gets to the heart of pupil A's difficulties with decimals. What do his
responses reveal?
The response to question 11 above reveals another major conceptual error. What is it?

What significant misconception concerning the ordering of fractions does the above

In a few sentences, summarise pupil A's difficulties with fractions and decimals.

Now read the researcher's comments on pupil A.

Pupil A has a misconception that often goes unrecognised. Most teachers are aware of
the tendency to ignore decimal points and treat decimals as if they are whole numbers.
Thus many pupils obtain such answers as 0.75 > 0.8. Here is evidence of the reverse
tendency, to say that numbers with more decimal places are smaller in value.

There are two common reasons why pupils might believe this. Firstly, they feel that, say,
0.45 goes into hundredths while 0.7 only goes into tenths. Thus 0.45 < 0.7 because
'tenths are bigger than hundredths'. Secondly (and this is the reason that is suggested
here), they believe that 0.45 is analogous or equivalent to 1/45.

Pupil A shows in his answers that he does understand one meaning of the denominator
in a fraction. He sees 3/8 as involving the cutting of a cake into 8 parts. He seems,
however, to ignore the value of the numerator when comparing fractions.

Both pupil A's responses and the researcher's analysis are available for printing
from Extras.

Misconceptions in Comparing Decimals

The following list describes some of the misconceptions or difficulties children can develop about
comparing decimal numbers. The list is based on the work of mathematics education researcher
Kaye Stacey, who has gathered data on thousands of children in Australia. Longer is larger
Children with this misconception seem to treat the portion of the number to the right of the
decimal point as a whole number, thus thinking that 2.352 > 2.1 because 352 > 1. Longer is
larger with exceptions This misconception is the same as the previous one except in the case of
intervening zeros, so that children with this misconception correctly identify that 3.6 > 3.07.
Shorter is larger Children with this misconception think that fewer digits to the right of a decimal
point always makes a decimal larger. For example, they would think that 6.31 > 6.482. These
children reason that any number of tenths is greater than any number of hundredths and that any
number of hundredths is greater than any number of thousandths, and so on.Reciprocal or
negative reasoning Children with this misconception also think that fewer digits to the right of a
decimal point always makes a decimal larger but they use “reciprocal reasoning” or “negative
reasoning”, thinking, for example, that 0.2 > 0.3 because 12 >13 or because −2 > −3, since 2 < 3.
Reversal Children with this misconception “correctly” order decimals but then reverse their
answers, so that all their answers become incorrect. These children may view decimals as less
than zero. Experts to the hundredths Children with this difficulty correctly order decimals as long
as there are no entries below the hundredths. They may reason by thinking about money. They
are unsure what to do when there are entries in the thousandths place or below, for example,
they may not know how to compare 3.64 and 3.6402. Put the following set of decimal numbers in
order from least to greatest. Then show how children with the misconceptions described above
might put the numbers in order. 3.62 3.4102 3.41 3.401 3.4 3.3

Correct order (least to greatest):

Longer is larger misconception:

Longer is larger with exceptions:

Shorter is larger:

Reciprocal or negative reasoning:


Experts to the hundredths:

UGRU Journal Volume 5, Fall 2007

1 1

Misconceptions in Numbers

Dr. Amar Sadi, Mathmatics

Misconceptions associated with numbers are found throughout the mathematics


Here, we identify and review certain misconceptions that are most common among
primary and

secondary school students.

1. Misconceptions Associated with the Arithmetic Operations

Of the four basic arithmetic operations addition seems to present students with the least

challenges. Two of the most common errors relate to the positioning of the numbers in
the vertical

presentation of the addition and the process of ‘carrying’. Both of these errors are

of a lack of understanding of place value.

In subtraction, Dickson & al (1984) cite Resnick (1982) summary of student’s most

errors as either Smaller-from-Larger or mistakes with borrowing. Smaller-from-Larger

refers to

the fact that students would take the smaller digit from the larger irrespective of the
position of

the digits as in the following example


- 237

= 314

Clearly, the student subtracted 3 from 7 because 3 was the smaller digit. Here, the
assumption is

that the subtraction is commutative. An explicit reference to the non-commutativity of


will reduce the occurrence of such errors. Students should be made aware at an early
age of the

importance of order in subtraction.

Of the four arithmetic operations, division presents students with the most challenges.
The first is

the belief that the divisor should always be smaller than the dividend. The extent of this

was investigated by several researchers. Graeber and Baker (1992) put the following
question to

fifteen nine-year old and fifteen ten-year old children:

“Five pounds of trail mix was shared equally by fifteen friends. How many pounds

trail mix did each friend get?”

Twenty-four out of the group of 30 children responded by performing the operation 15÷5

giving 3 as the answer. Perhaps more worrying was the fact that 42 percent of a sample
of sixtyfive trainee elementary school teacher trainees gave the answer 15÷5.

The source of this misconception lies clearly in the students’ early encounters with
division. Such

encounters are almost always in situations where a whole number has to be divided by
one of its

factors. Thus, for the children, ‘this kind of problem always goes like that, the little into
the big.’

Further research (Graber and Baker 1988) suggests that throughout KS2 and KS3

encounter very few instances where the divisor is greater than the dividend.

2. Misconceptions With Zero UGRU Journal Volume 5, Fall 2007

There is a wide range of common errors that students make when they encounter zero

arithmetic operations. Perhaps the most common is the problem that students have in

from zero in the process of subtraction. The use of zero in multiplication and division is
also the

source of a large number of mistakes and misconceptions among students of all ages.

Multiplying by zero

One of the most common mistakes involving zero is the failure by many students to
realise that

multiplying any number by zero yields zero. Rees and Barr (1984) found that 52% of

people in a public examination wrote that

9 × 0 × 8 = 72

This failure stems probably from the difficulty that many students have in interpreting a

multiplication by zero. For many, zero represents nothing. As such, a multiplication by

zero just

leaves the number unchanged.

Is Zero Worth Writing?

Often students are confused when trying to decide whether to write or omit zero. They
are often

told that zero at the end of a decimal number has no value and therefore can be omitted

changing the number. Thus

45.80 is identical to 45.8

Similarly, when dividing 1632 by 8, students are taught not to write the ‘0’ that 3 divided
by 8

would yield and divide 16 by 8 instead. As a result, many students become confused
and are

unable to determine exactly when should zero be written and when it should be omitted.

students often make mistakes of the type:


8 1632

It is not difficult to see the rationale behind the result. Since 8 does not divide into 3,

often move on to divide 8 into 32 to obtain 4. Thus the zero that should have been

between 2 and 4 is omitted, resulting in 24 instead of 204.

3. Decimals

More students have problems with decimals than with any other number concept. There
seems to

be a large gap between students’ understanding of natural numbers and their

understanding of

decimal numbers. It’s ‘as if the introduction of the decimal point changes the nature of

number in a fundamental way’. Brown (1981b, 1981c) found that about half of 12 year-

students and a third of 15 year olds have difficulties understanding decimal notation.

Difficulties with decimal numbers range from comprehending place value after the
decimal to

proper use of the algorithm of addition and subtraction. Rees and Barr (1984) found that
10 yearold primary school students provided 100 different answers to the following task:
UGRU Journal Volume 5, Fall 2007

3 3

16.36 + 1.9 + 243.075

The most common (wrong) methods used by students when adding decimals include:

• Adding the numbers before the decimal points and the numbers after the decimal

separately and combining them in any one of a number of ways to form a single number.

• Mistakes in aligning the numbers vertically and using the addition algorithm.

Multiplication and division of decimal numbers are even more challenging to students.

misconceptions often result from a lack of feel of multiplication or division by decimals.

It Gets Bigger When I Multiply and Smaller When I Divide

Many problems with decimal numbers stem from facts learned or perceived when
working with
natural numbers. Many properties of natural numbers are mechanically extended to
other real

numbers, leading to many erroneous beliefs. Prominent among these is the widespread
belief that

multiplication should always yield a number that is necessarily higher than those with
which we

started and a division should result in a smaller number.

Thus for many students it seems inconceivable that 5 × 0.4 should give 2 since 2 is
smaller than 5.

In the same way, they find it hard to accept that 10 ÷ 0.1 gives 100 since 100 is much
bigger than

10? For many children, to make a number bigger, you have to multiply it and to make it

you have to divide it.

Why do many students believe that multiplication makes bigger? The reasons are
multiple. First,

many everyday language expressions imply that it is the case. When plants or animal

we talk of multiplication. The word ‘multiple’ itself carries a sense of many or a great

The second reason for this misconception has to do with the fact that many students first

encounter multiplication in the context of whole numbers, situation in which the

multiplication of

two numbers indeed results in a larger number. A third reason for this misconception is

by Graeber and Campbell (1993). Multiplication is often explained to young students as


repeated addition. This view carries many secondary effects of which the most
prominent is that

multiplication makes bigger. Other secondary effects include the difficulty that students
have in
dealing with multiplication of fractions, and dealing with multiplication with small

4. Fractions

Kerslake (1986) found that students of thirteen to fourteen years relied heavily on rote
memory of

previously learned techniques when working with fractions. She believes that this is
mainly due

to the fact that “fractions do not form a normal part of a child’s environment and the

on them are abstractly defined”. This abstraction and lack of feel for fractions lead
students to

have many misconceptions about fractions. The most common of these misconceptions

the four algebraic operations and equivalent fractions.

Multiplication and Division of Fractions

UGRU Journal Volume 5, Fall 2007

Research shows that on the whole students cope well with multiplication of fractions.
This is

probably due to the fact that the rule of multiplication of fractions seems natural: multiply

numerators together and the denominators together. Cramer and Bezuk (1991) found
that even

lower-ability students experience little or no difficulty in multiplying fractions. However,


same research also concluded that students have little or understanding of the concept

multiplication of fractions. This is partly due to the fact that multiplication with whole
numbers is

often viewed and understood by students as a repeated addition. When confronted with
operation of the type

2/3 × 3/5

students have no meaningful interpretation.

In view of this absence of interpretation, efforts to teach multiplication of fractions should


more on real situations involving a product of two fractions and the explication of why the

multiplication of the two fractions is performed the way it is.

Division of fractions is even more problematic. Students find it extremely difficult to


visualise a division of say, ¾ by ½. For most children, this kind of operation is simply

meaningless. In addition, often students fail to see the point or understand the logic
behind the

inversion of the second fraction when carrying the operation.

Addition and Subtraction of Fractions

Addition of fractions poses a different sort of problem to children. While most will have

problems comprehending the meaning of ¼ + 2/3, often they will struggle to find the
right result.

When faced with the addition of fractions, often students choose the “easiest way out”.
Instead of

looking for equivalent fractions having the same denominator, they simply add the
and the denominators, thus using the following “rule”:



Hart (1981) found that 30% of 13 year olds were making this error, and notes that 15
year olds

were almost as likely to make this error as 13 year olds. This misconception is, at least
partially, a

result of the rule of multiplication of fractions.

Equivalent Fractions

The concept of equivalent fractions is needed in many applications involving fractions.


example, if we wanted to know which is the larger of 3/5 and 4/7, one way of dealing
with this

would be to find fractions equivalent to the given ones, but having the same

However, many students of all ages experience difficulties in their attempt to find

fractions. Hart (1980) found that only 66 percent of 15 year olds could recognize that
3/10 was

larger than 1/5. In an American Survey (NAEP), only 3 percent of 13 year olds were to
which of the fractions 1/4, 5/32, 5/16, 3/8 was nearest to 3/16. These results clearly

that students either do not know how to find equivalent fractions or do not make the

between equivalence and size. UGRU Journal Volume 5, Fall 2007

5 5

Equivalence of fractions can also be used to find a fraction between two given fractions,
such as

1/2 and 2/3. Hart (1980) found that only 21 percent of 15 year olds were able to find
such a

fraction. Hart also found that students often do not realise that between two fractions on

number line there are many (infinitely many) fractions. The following table summarises

replies given by 15 year olds to the question:

‘How many fractions lie between ¼ and ½?’

Response Percentage of children

Infinitely many, lots, etc… (correct answer) 16%

One 30%

A number between 1 and 20 22%

Other answers 15%

Omit 17%

Brown (1981) confirms that students often do not know that the number line has no

spaces’ when he asked students the question: ‘How many different numbers could you

down which lie between 0.41 and 0.42?’

5. Percentages.
Percentages, ratios and proportions present children, and indeed most people, with a
number of

challenges that appear quite daunting. Rees and Barr (1984) found that only half of a
sample of

8600 candidates could work out their new salary if their present salary increased by a

percentage. In another test, only 26% of twelve-year old students could work out how
much a pair

of jeans which normally costs £15 would cost after a 20% reduction. Thirty-three

answers were given to the question. The APU (1980) reports that only about half of 15
year olds

could work out what percentage 50 is of 250.

Here is a sample of some answers given to a simple percentage question:

20% of £65 = £ 65/20

20% of £65 = £ 65/20 × 100

20% 0f £65 = 15%

The wide range of answers shows that there is widespread confusion linked to
percentages. Any

lesson on percentages should start by a clear understanding that a percentage is

basically a special

fraction or a decimal.


Misconceptions abound in mathematics. They are picked throughout the educational life
of a

child. Some are inherent to the subject, others are the results of teaching techniques that

encourage the emergence of such misconceptions. Researchers agree that most


are difficult to overcome. Thus it is more important for teachers to make sure that the
misconceptions do not arise in the first place. First, teachers should be aware of areas
that have

the potential to generate misconceptions in the minds of the children. Then enough
work, and UGRU Journal Volume 5, Fall 2007

examples should be focused on directly contradicting the perceived misconception.


Graeber Anna O. and Kay M. Baker Little into Big is the Way it Always Is, Arithmetic

April 1992.

Hart, K.M. (1980) Secondary School Students’ Understanding of Mathematics- research

monograph, Chelsea College, University of London.

Linda DICKSON, Margaret Brown, Olwen Gibson (1984) StudentsLearning

Mathematics A

Teacher’s guide to recent research, Holt, Rinhart and Winston for the Schools Council.

Department of Education and Science, APU - Assessment of Performance Unit (1980),

Mathematical Development, Secondary Survey Report No. 1, HMSO

Streefland, L. Charming Fractions or Fractions being Charmed in Learning and Teaching

Mathematics, an International Perspective, Edited by Nunes, T. and Bryant, P.,

Psychology Press


Steffe, Leslie, P. & Olive John. “The Problem of Fractions in the Elementary School” The

Arithmetic Teacher, May 1991. 22-24.

Ward, M. (1979) Mathematics and the 10-year old, Working Paper 61, Schools Council.


Brown, M (1981) Place-Value and Decimals. In Students’ Understanding of

Mathematics: 11-16

Hart, K.M. (1981) Students’ Understanding of Mathematics 11-16, John Murray.

Graeber, Anna, O and Campbell, Patricia F. Misconceptions about Multiplication and


Arithmetic Teacher March 1993, 408-411.

Arsham, H. A Critical Panoramic View Of Basic Mathematical Concepts, Teaching


and its Apllications Volume 17, No. 2, 1998

Resnick, L.B. (1982) Syntax and Semantics in Learning to Subtract. In Addition and

A Cognitive Perspective (Ed) Carpenter, T.P. et al. New Jersey: Laurence Erlhaum

Graeber, Anna O. and Kay Baker. “Curriculum Materials and Misconceptions


Multiplication and Division with Decimals” Sixth Congress of Mathematics Education,


Hungary, July 1988.

Kerlake, Daphne. Fractions: Students’ Strategies and Errors. Windsor, England: NEFR-

1986. UGRU Journal Volume 5, Fall 2007

7 7

Cramer Kathleen and Bezuk Nadine. Multiplication of Fractions, Arithmetic Teacher,



National Assessment of Educational Performance – NAEP (1980) Mathematical


Report: Summary Volume. Washington: NAEP

Mathematics Success - Common Mistakes in Mathematics

By Sesan Oguntade

This math article is going to be an effective mathematics guide that most

math course materials have not supplied for sometime now. It is going to
talk about an important problem that has made students not to perform at
their best in mathematics.

Mathematics today as a subject occupies a prime position in the world of

education. It is one of the core subjects that are needed for any human being
to attain any height in life. Right from the early days of a child, he or she is
expected to master the art of counting and adding. How well he or she does
this at this early stage can go along way to determine how good he or she
will be as a math student later on in life. Most students who are not doing
very well presently in math must have had bad background training and as a
result, they find it difficult coping with the subject as they grow. They only
struggle from one stage of their academic life to another building on a poor
foundation. We all know what the result of this venture will be - a poor math
result in their final examinations.

It is a common thing to see students making many foundational errors

whenever they solve questions in higher classes. Some students in the
examination classes cannot even use the BODMAS rule to solve questions-
Yes this is how bad it is! Here are some common mistakes by our students in
math and the solutions provided. I hope this will be useful to you or your
child. I have provided the likely wrong solutions by students and what should
be the right solutions. Comments have also been included under each. Please
enjoy them.
QUESTION 1: Simplify - 6 - 5

Wrong solution:
-6 -5
= +30

Right solution:
- 6 -5
= -11

COMMENT: Some students of mathematics still solve this type of question

above as - 6 x -5, which is equal to + 30, because - multiply by - = + and 6
x 5 = 30. However, the question above does not involve multiplication, it is
simple addition. The solution to the problem can be approached this way; if
we use the idea of owing money (-) and having money (+). Owing is taken
as a negative (-) thing, while having is taken as a positive (+) thing.

Let us now use this idea to solve the question above and other subsequent
questions involving operations on directed numbers. -6 imply I owe six
quantities, -5 also imply I owe five quantities. So therefore, I owe eleven
quantities altogether i.e. -11 (it is negative eleven because I still owe).

Here is another one:

QUESTION 2: Simplify -1 + 5 - 2 - 3

Right solution:
-1 + 5 - 2 - 3
= -1

COMMENT: Using the "Owing and having rule". I owed one quantity (-) and I
have five quantities (+5), when I pay back the one quantity I owe, I will
have four quantities (+4) left. I owe a further two quantities (-2) and a
further three quantities (-3) which equals five quantities (-5). So, when I pay
back four quantities (which I already have), I'll be owing one more quantity
(-1). So therefore, the result is -1.

Here is another one:

QUESTION 3: Simplify -3 x -2 x +2

Wrong solution:
-3 x -2 x +2
= -12
Right solution:
-3 x - 2 x + 2
= +12

COMMENT: This problem involves multiplication and the rule of signs must
apply. It is necessary to simplify the signs first before the numbers (figures).
- x -= +, the resultant + sign multiplied by the last + sign = +. Now to the
figures, 3 x 2 x 2 = 12. Therefore, the result is +12.

You can obtain an exciting e-book that has treated over 70 common mistakes
in mathematics by students at an introductory price
at Claim a free sample of the math
ebook, free mathematics newsletters, free mathematics worksheets, access
to my mathematics blog immediately.

You can obtain an exciting e-book that has treated over 70 common mistakes
in mathematics by students at an introductory price
at Claim a free sample of the math
ebook, free mathematics newsletters, free mathematics worksheets, access
to my mathematics blog immediately.

Article Source:

-copy from intenet-

-copy from intenet-
Why might a child have no trouble ordering this first set of decimals but have difficulty
with the second set?
First set0.4 0.9 0.3 0.7

Second set 0.4 0.9 0.3 0.7 0.10

Results from a large scale study of students' misconceptions of decimal notation

(Steinle & Stacey, 2004) indicate many students treat decimals as another whole
number to the right of the decimal point. This "whole number thinking" leads
some students to believe, in the context of comparing decimals, that "longer is
larger"; e.g., 0.45 is larger than 0.8 because 0.45 has more digits. This
misconception (one of several major misconceptions) appears to be the most
prevalent and is likely to be persistent beyond Year 10.

These results and results from a research project (Roche & Clarke, 2004) indicate
some students misunderstand the decimal numeration system and that some
students use a rule to compare decimals possibly to the detriment of their
conceptual understanding. This rule provides a quick fix to students unable to
compare decimals accurately while continuing to encourage the "whole number
thinking" misconception. Also, students who are not dependent on this rule (and
successful in a decimal comparison task) are more likely to be able to solve more
difficult tasks involving the relative size of decimals.

A research project

In 2004, I interviewed 48 students from Years 3 to 6 using a range of tasks,

where the mathematical focus was decimal knowledge and understanding.
During the analyses of these interviews I was able to follow the progress of
students who were successful on a decimal comparison task. The task included
nine decimal pairs, and the students were asked to say which was larger and
why. Patterns of errors suggested some students held the misconceptions
outlined by Steinle and Stacey (1998). The decimal comparison task was
implemented in an interview situation rather than a pencil and paper test, and I
was able to identify two strategies used by students who achieved no more than
one error on the decimal comparison task.

Strategy 1. Some students used fractional language and benchmarking

strategies to compare the decimals. For example: "0.567 is greater than 0.3
because five tenths is greater than three tenths, or 0.567 is more than a half and
0.3 is less than a half", or "0.87 is greater than 0.087 …

Saturday, March 27, 2010

PERPULUHAN - Cara menambah nombor perpuluhan

Untuk menambahkan nombor perpuluhan, caranya tetap sama seperti

menambah nombor bulat. Yang perlu di utamakan ialah kedudukan titik
perpuluhannya. Adalah PENTING untuk memastikan yang titik perpuluhan
berada dalam satu garisan yang lurus sebelum penambahan nombor perpuluhan

Seperti biasa, aktiviti penambahan di mulai dengan nombor yang paling kanan
dan bergerak kepada lajur sebelah kiri.
Penambahan nombor perpuluhan yang tidak sama rata
Jika nombor anda menambah tidak mempunyai jumlah yang sama digit ke kanan
titik perpuluhan, anda masih perlu menyusun titik perpuluhan dalam satu
garisan lurus sebelum menambah.

Jawapan di atas tangan

Jika ada membawa (iaitu, jika menambah nombor yang membawa jawapan lebih
daripada 9) , ingat untuk menambah digit puluhan dari medan ke medan
Kesalahan yang sering anak-anak lakukan ketika menambahkan
nombor perpuluhan.

1. Titik perpuluhan tidak berada dalam satu garis yang lurus

2. Menambahkan nombor yang berada di sebelah kiri terlebih dahulu.

Kesalahan 14: Rujuk lampiran

- Pembahagian bagi nombor perpuluhan.

Antara kesilapan yang sering dilakukan oleh murid dalam operasi

pembahagian bagi nombor perpuluhan ialah mereka mengabaikan titik
perpuluhan semasa melakukan proses pembahagian nombor perpuluhan. Ini
kerana bagi mereka, titik perpuluhan itu boleh menyukarkan dan mengelirukan
mereka untuk melakukan pembahagian nombor perpuluhan.