The 5 most interesting misconceptions in mathematics – my Edexcel Maths Conference Talk, July 2015

On Saturday 4th July, I was kindly invited to give the opening address at the wonderful Edexcel Maths Conference in Warwick. The title of my talk was “The 5 most interesting misconceptions in mathematics”. Quite a few people asked me for a copy, so here it is, along with some screen shots.

And as a disclaimer, these are purely my own choices for what I considered to be interesting misconceptions – ones that in 10 years of teaching I have not necessarily emphasised, but I certainly will from now on.

All the lovely sunburst diagrams, come courtesy of our Data page on Diagnostic Questions. Please have a play around – I promise you will not be disappointed! :-)

Here is the link to download the PowerPoint.

And here are some screen shots:







6 thoughts on “The 5 most interesting misconceptions in mathematics – my Edexcel Maths Conference Talk, July 2015

  1. Attended Warwick on Saturday. Thank you. Registered for DQ last school year but time constraints and paperwork have meant that’s all I did. I hope to use DQ with selected students as ‘homework intervention.’ next year.
    Is it possible to register my classes en masse?
    Or do they all register individually?
    I’m still learning how I might use it.

  2. Loved your session-always inspiring and informative. I am having trouble logging into the system. Could someone contact me as I want to prepare for next year.

  3. I know that the mention of Hannah’s Sweets as the most poorly answered area of GCSE Maths was intended as a joke, but it actually raises an interesting point. Focusing on rote memorisation of specific methods – this is how to do bearings, this is how to find a length of a line in 3D (“3D Pythagoras”), etc – works to an extent, but past a certain level questions will require a deeper understanding and the abiility to apply existing knowledge in unfamiliar situations. This ultimately means that students who do well at GCSE are not necessarily being equipped with the skills required for success at a higher level, for instance AS and A2 maths.

    A case in point would be how my school taught the expansion of two linear brackets, (e.g., (x+2)(x-3)). I was always taught to remember the acronym ‘FOIL’ – standing for first, outer, inner, last. Remembering this mnemonic will certainly enable a student to answer any ‘expansion’ question that might feature in a GCSE mathematics exam. However, when faced with a slightly more complex expansion, for instance (2x^2 + 3x + 1)(x+4), a student relying on ‘FOIL’ is likely to fall flat on their face. On the other hand, a student who takes the time to think about and understand what is actually going on will probably be able to complete the question without much difficulty.

    1. I could not agree more! In fact, just last week I was reviewing the results of a trial of one of AQA specimen papers. Any kind of twist in the question which made it non-routine completely threw most of the students. And the prevalence of the non-routine certainly seems greater in all the new GCSE papers that I have seen.

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