An Analysis of Misunderstanding in Mathematics: The Case of Meanings of Equal Sign


Many mathematical symbols and notations are figured routinely by students in learning mathematics in the school contexts. Those symbols and notations are mostly faced by students, especially when they learn about arithmetic and algebra. In fact, many students are struggling to understand the meaning of those mathematical symbols and notations, and sometimes lead them to the misunderstandings (e.g. Kiran, 1981). Realizing this issue, many researchers and experts from many different fields and backgrounds have been trying to find out what kinds of misunderstandings that happen in the students’ thinking in learning mathematics and how to deal with them.

Furthermore, misunderstandings about mathematical symbols and notations are also happened in the case of equal sign (or more holistically, equality). Question about how students understand the equality symbol have largely been discussed by many researchers and experts from many different fields persist through elementary schools to high schools and colleges (e.g. Jones and Pratt, 2007; Hattikudur and Alibali, 2010). Based on those extensive researches focusing in this issue, many students do not interpret the equal sign, as an equivalence symbol. They misunderstand about the meaning of the equal sign. Moreover, as will be seen, understanding the equal sign as an equivalence relation does not seem to come easily to the students. The purpose of this essay is to analyze about misunderstandings of the equal sign among elementary and secondary school children.

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