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Cease Utilizing These 4 Phrases in Math Class

By Dan Ilaria

Do you recall sitting in math class and writing down a listing of definitions for brand new vocabulary phrases? You most likely felt overwhelmed after copying definition after definition.

Feeling some phrase exhaustion is regular as a result of it seems language studying and mathematical studying rely upon one another.

In line with Stanford’s Middle for Evaluation, Studying and Fairness, mathematical language must be developed together with mathematical sense making. So writing down vocabulary definitions with out the chance to discover and play with concepts first doesn’t advance studying.

Additionally, college students might be confused by mathematical phrases or phrases with broad or a number of meanings, and this may create pointless frustration and stress when studying new ideas.

Let’s overview 4 phrases or phrases academics ought to remove from their lecture rooms to assist cut back confusion, stress, and nervousness.

Unhealthy Phrase: Cancel

Think about educating a scholar to resolve 3x = 9. You would possibly say “cancel the three” to get the reply, x = 3.  If fixing x + 3 = 9, you may also say “cancel the three.” Nonetheless, the scholar might want to do two totally different operations to resolve the equations. Confusion.

The phrase cancel can be generally used for combining like phrases or dividing widespread components. That isn’t actually what you’re educating college students to do in these examples. Utilizing this phrase may cause confusion, particularly while you’re utilizing it in varied methods.

What ought to we do as a substitute? The instructor ought to title the arithmetic they’re doing. This can be a solution to interact within the mathematical follow “Attend to Precision.” To interrupt the behavior of utilizing cancel, academics ought to take the time to call the mathematical operations being carried out and assist college students concentrate on the purpose of their work.

For instance, if a scholar is fixing 3x = 9,  the instructor would clarify they divide either side of the equation by 3 as a result of they need the coefficient of x to be 1. By naming the mathematical operation, college students get a greater understanding of their work, as a substitute of getting confused by what it means to “cancel” in that particular state of affairs.

Unhealthy Phrase: Plug in

When academics and college students are saying, “plug in,” this phrase is commonly utilized in varied methods with totally different meanings. A instructor may ask, “when fixing an equation, how do you verify your reply?” or “when fixing a system of equations for x, how do you discover y?” and the scholar would reply, “plug in my reply,” or “plug in x.” This phrase can simply trigger confusion since there isn’t a “plug in” property of equality and “plug in” is an on a regular basis phrase.

As a substitute, academics ought to clarify how college students are utilizing the substitution property of equality. Utilizing this idea within the classroom helps college students perceive what they’re doing and makes use of correct mathematical language.

For instance, college students are discovering the worth of the expression 8x + 3, when x = 6. The substitution property of equality states that if a = b then b might be substituted in for a, so college students know to substitute 6 for x to guage the expression. There isn’t any “plugging in” taking place on this drawback – go away the plugging in for charging telephones and twisted up pc cords!

Unhealthy Phrase: Scale back

A instructor writes the fraction 9/6 on the board and tells college students to “cut back” the fraction. College students can provide you with the solutions 6/4 or 3/2; nevertheless, did the worth of the fraction actually get smaller? No, so why are we asking college students to cut back the fraction?

All of those fractions equal the identical worth, but we regularly inform college students to cut back the fraction which might be making it smaller. This will simply trigger confusion for a scholar when they’re wanting on the three fractions equaling the identical factor, but listening to the instructor clarify the fractions as “lowered.”

As a substitute, for a lot of these workout routines academics ought to have college students “rewrite the fraction in an equal kind.” College students would then write 9/6 = 6/4 = 3/2. They’re rewriting the fraction, whereas additionally understanding the entire fractions have the identical worth.

Unhealthy Phrase: Cross-multiply

Similar to the primary three phrases and phrases, “cross-multiply” is one other phrase that causes pointless confusion amongst college students. College students are sometimes advised to cross-multiply to resolve equations like this one:

x/9 = 2/3

Nonetheless, cross-multiplication creates widespread errors for college kids. As soon as launched, cross-multiplying results in confusion and frustration as a result of when many college students see two fractions, they need to cross-multiply.  One widespread place this occurs is with including fractions. College students be taught to cross-multiply to search out widespread denominators relatively than make sense of how addition and subtraction requires fractions having the identical dimension.

Within the Constructing Ideas collection of actions from TI Schooling, there are alternatives for college kids to discover fractions dynamically. The screenshots present how a scholar including 1/2 + 1/3 can change the scale of the fractions to create two new equal fractions with the identical denominator. This enables college students to make sense of the operation earlier than studying shortcuts that might be utilized incorrectly later.

Supply: Constructing Ideas from

As a substitute of cross-multiplying when fixing proportions, it’s vital to notice a proportional relationship is a group of pairs of numbers which might be in equal ratios, as acknowledged within the Frequent Core Progressions Paperwork  Once we write an equation, we’re setting the worth of two ratios equal to one another. So, we are able to consider the connection as equal fractions or as fixing an equation.

Returning to x/9 = 2/3, if we see equal fractions, we see the denominator is multiplied by three from 3 to 9, so our numerator should be multiplied by 3, which tells us x = 6. In the event you see the equation and take into consideration the right way to resolve it, we are able to simply multiply by 9 on both sides of the equation to search out the worth of x. Each processes are fewer steps than the cross-multiplying algorithm.


Cease saying “cancel” and use “title the operation.” Cease saying “plug in” and use “substitute.” Cease saying “cut back” and use “rewrite.” Cease saying “cross-multiply” and permit college students to make sense of what they’re fixing.

Persistently highlighting and amplifying educational language will assist college students be taught, significantly English Language learners. So don’t overlook to make use of correct educational vocabulary so college students make sense of arithmetic!

Dr. Daniel R. Ilaria is a Professor of Arithmetic Schooling at West Chester College in Pennsylvania the place he works with instructor candidates on studying efficient pedagogical practices and constructing pedagogical content material information. 

He’s the Program Coordinator for secondary arithmetic schooling and Venture Director for the WW STEM Instructing Fellowship and NSF NOYCE W.I.S.E.R grants. He additionally helps academics enhance their educational follow as an educational coach, a T3 Nationwide Teacher, and Illustrative Arithmetic Licensed Facilitator.

This text is predicated on Dr. Ilaria’s presentation “Math with Unhealthy Phrases and Phrases” on the 2023 annual convention of the Nationwide Council of Lecturers of Arithmetic (NCTM).



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