Maths Misconceptions: Using A Rumours Activity

|5 min read

Editor's note

This blog post was originally published on 3 August 2018

How do we use maths misconceptions as valuable learning opportunity in the classroom? One way that I like to use to explore these misconceptions is through a rumours activity.

So, what exactly is a rumours activity?

A rumours activity involves presenting learners with a piece of maths chitchat that they have to unpack and investigate to test its validity. Rumours are usually short statements that are deliberately chosen to engage learners in sustained discussion in order to improve their learning.

Using rumours to link maths assessment and learning

A rumours activity naturally generates a learning conversation between pupils because they’re focused on talking to each other to work through a problem. As pupils begin to compare and contrast their responses with their peers, they start to assess their own level of understanding and which direction they need to move in to improve their learning.

When learners are presented with a rumour, they discuss together whether it contains any truth. Learners can team up with a maths buddy and follow up a rumour or, one pupil may take on the role of an expert and reply to the class while inviting questions.

When pupils engage in conversation you can judge the level of sophistication they’re working at and assess what they know and how well they know it. Rumours allow disagreements to surface, enabling you to measure what learners understand in order to drive formative action and shape future learning.

Some practical suggestions

An effective way to introduce rumours is to tell your learners that you overheard a conversation in a playground between a group of their peers and that you doubt the accuracy of their claims. Then you can present the rumour verbally or in written form and ask your class to discuss its content.

This method provides a powerful context for exploring ideas, framing arguments and goes a long way in helping learners substantiate their thinking.

These activities can be used at the beginning of a topic, part way through or as a summative challenge to assess what children have learnt.

Follow up

To follow up on this activity you could ask your learners to address the rumour by writing a letter or poster that explains why the rumour isn’t true. The rumour itself could even write back!

You might ask learners to collect a number of maths misconceptions and commonly held beliefs and present these as ‘Old Wives Maths Tales’ or ‘Maths Myths and Legends’.

You could also ask your class to develop a Maths TV news show called, ‘Word on the Mathematical Street’. Here, pupils could present ‘maths rumours currently circulating in this neighbourhood are…’ or ‘beware of the rumour…’

Creative activities like these make sure pupils have fun while at the same time learn critical thinking skills that will help them all throughout their life.

Introduce rumour activities with these helpful tips:

  • Differentiate between hearsay and fact.
  • Deliberately plant untruths and errors for children to unearth.
  • Make a display of rumours with all group responses displayed around them.
  • Set up a maths rumour file for learners to add their ideas.
  • Write a set of rumours for another class to reply to.
  • Dramatise the use of rumours by getting learners to act out a problem in a playground huddle with someone eavesdropping.
  • Have rumours delivered to the class inside an envelope addressed to different groups.
  • Limit the number of rumours to work on to less than three.

Some rumours to get you started:

  • I heard a rumour that angle size depends on the length of the angle lines
  • I heard a rumour that the bigger the arc, the bigger the angle
  • I heard a rumour that the biggest acute angle is 89°
  • I heard a rumour that it is impossible to have an angle more than 360°
  • I heard a rumour that the diagonal of a square is the same length as its side
  • I heard a rumour that 0.625 is bigger than 0.8
  • I heard a rumour that 0.083 is bigger than 0.1
  • I heard a rumour that you cannot find a 1/3 of 1/3
  • I heard a rumour that six tenths can be written as 6.10
  • I heard a rumour that you write 4.1 hours as 4hr 10 mins
  • I heard a rumour that 1 is a prime number
  • I heard a rumour that 53 = 15
  • I heard a rumour that 2/9 is bigger than 1/4
  • I heard a rumour that 0.6 x 0.6 = 3.6
  • I heard a rumour that 9 x 0 = 9
  • I heard a rumour that 5% is 0.5 as a decimal
  • I heard a rumour that there are no numbers between 3.7 and 3.8

A little tension please

To make sure the rumours are an effective vehicle for formative assessment, they must be open to encourage a discussion.

Maths rumours generate rich dialogue, open a window into pupils’ thinking, reveal misconceptions and encourage investigation, extended discussion and peer to peer learning.

As teachers, we can support discussion through focused questions but it’s important not to hijack their learning. It’s paramount that we allow plenty of space for children to fill in the gaps using their own powers of reasoning and provide just enough feedback to make them think.

Pupil reactions

Some children will discover new learning and upgrade their knowledge and understanding but some won’t arrive at a best composite response. This is usually because they’re emotionally and intellectually attached to their misconceptions, especially if they have actively constructed them.

Finally, pupil-led maths talk is important but, at some point, we may have to ‘step in’ if we find that children are getting confused or in danger of leaving the classroom with faulty ideas.

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