Learning Stipulative Definitions in Mathematics is Difficult

Share Cognitive Science Implications for Teaching Mathematics

Effective communication in mathematics is a non-trivial but essential skill. Communication in mathematics involves:

  • Mathematical understanding.
  • Vocabulary knowledge base.
  • Fluency and proficiency with;
    • numbers,
    • symbols,
    • words, and
    • diagrams;
  • Comprehension skills.

Difficulties students face when learning the language of mathematics are complex and can negatively impact their entire mathematics development.  A teacher’s intervention is required to help students overcome the stumbling block which is vocabulary.

A first step in helping students to learn and use the language of mathematics is for teachers to realize that vocabulary instruction is essential.

A second step is for teachers to understand the many difficulties that vocabulary presents to students.

A third step is for teachers to become familiar with methods of teaching vocabulary.

A fourth step is for teachers to implement effective methods to teach vocabulary in mathematics.

Teaching essential vocabulary in mathematics class should result in at least the following

  1. Storage of word meanings in long-term memory.
  2. Ability to recall word meanings from long-term memory
  3. Promote understanding of definitions.
  4. Become fluent in the language of mathematics
  5. Maintain the word meaning over time.
  6. Ability to easily and accurately use the language of mathematics to explain and justify mathematical concepts and relationships.

Without the instructor first teaching basic understanding and facilitating fluency with vocabulary words, the purposeful and effective use of the language of mathematics will likely not occur.

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