The most common maths mistakes and how maths teachers can easily fix them

2020-01-29

Maths can be a tricky subject to teach for both primary teachers and secondary teachers, as it is a subject where pupils will often learn from the mistakes they make.


Making errors can ultimately enhance understanding, but at the same time, teaching staff will want to limit the number of mistakes that are being made.


It’s important to recognise that not all mistakes in maths can be looked at equally – some result from a lack of theoretical or conceptual understanding, others from miscalculations or pupils simply not paying attention.


Fortunately, there are numerous methods that maths teachers can use to help pupils, provided that the types of mistakes can be identified.


Recognising maths errors

Broadly speaking, mistakes in maths can be categorised into three main areas around the following themes:

  • Careless errors (such as pupils writing down a problem wrongly or not paying attention)
  • Computational errors (mistakes are made in the calculation process)
  • Conceptual errors (where children have misunderstood the theory or underlying concept)


Reducing these kinds of mistakes should ultimately help pupils to understand maths, thereby enhancing learning outcomes.


Overcoming careless errors

To tackle careless errors, maths teachers should encourage pupils to take their time when copying out maths problems and to double-check key figures.


By paying attention to what they are doing, pupils should make fewer careless errors which will help when it comes to exams.


Using squared or graph paper can help pupils to align numbers and to present their workings neatly too – this should enable maths teachers to spot any computational errors too.


Where maths problems are presented in written form, teachers should also encourage pupils to identify the key bits of information and to then highlight or circle it for reference.


Tackling computational errors

One mistake when solving a complex problem will mean that the rest is also wrong, which is why pupils should always be encouraged to show the steps they used to get their answer.


This enables maths teachers to see if the concepts have been grasped or not – they can then tell pupils that while the answer is wrong, the process used to get there was right.


As before, pupils should be told to slow down and to check the accuracy of their workings, including by checking with a calculator if they have one.


Methods of introducing concepts

With conceptual errors, it can be difficult to identify where the mistakes are and what may have caused them.


Tackling these types of mistakes often depends on the teaching methods used when introducing new theory and maths concepts.


It’s best to teach the concept using an array of examples and by showing several methods of getting the right answer – pupils might prefer one way to another and not all pupils may have the same preference.


Maths teachers may also wish to encourage discussion when talking through topics, as this might highlight specific areas where pupils are unsure.


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