Data-Driven Intervention: a Minor Tweak, a Major Revelation - Correcting Mathematic Students’ Misconceptions, not Mistakes.

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Vicki-Lynn Holmes, Hope College

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This material is based upon work supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Michigan Space Grant Consortium, Carl Frost Center for Social Science Research, and Ottawa Area.


In a standard-based reform age where “research driven instruction” is the dictum of the day, this mixed-methods study investigated the how Algebra I teachers analyzed and corrected student Function Family in errors. Research reveals that by learning how to correct mathematics students’ misconceptions, rather than their mistakes, teachers are able to target more students and increase their conceptual understanding of the topic at hand. This presentation highlights the results found from 36 Algebra I teachers’ use of this pedagogical skill after a three-day, workshop entitled Teaching Algebra Concepts through Technology (TACT2). Pre and post Common / Habitual Algebra Student Misconceptions assessments were given to assess teachers’ function family content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge at the beginning and end of the workshop. These assessments were comprised of a series of example student problems that contained common Function Family misconceptions that (a) research showed students habitually made when working with linear and quadratic equations and interpreting exponential and polynomial graphs; and (b) aligned with the National Common Core Standards. The post tests revealed that the Algebra I teachers averaged a 43% improvement in their ability to identify the common misconception present in several students’ example problems and in creating suitable interventions for that misconception. As one teacher commented, “A minor tweak resulted in a major revelation.” A secondary but no less important result from the workshop was in a shift in the way we classify misconceptions. Two patterns of common misconception types emerged – computational which is comprised of vocabulary, and computation; and conceptual, errors of erroneous belief. In doing so a new vein of pedagogical research emerged: Matching Algebra teacher intervention to these types of misconceptions.

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