Teaching Concepts over Process

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When Teaching Students Math, Concepts Matter More Than Process

As a mathematics education researcher, I study how math instruction impacts students’ learning, from following standard math procedures to understanding mathematical concepts. Focusing on the latter, conceptual understanding often involves understanding the “why” of a mathematical concept; it’s the reasoning behind the math rather than the how or the steps it takes to get to an answer.

So often, in mathematics classrooms, students are shown steps and procedures for solving math problems and then required to demonstrate their rote memorization of these steps independently.

As a result, students’ agency, knowledge and ability to transfer the concepts of mathematics suffer. Specifically, students experience diminished confidence in tackling mathematical problems and a decreased ability to apply mathematical reasoning in real-world situations. In addition, students may struggle with more advanced mathematical concepts and problem-solving tasks as they progress in their education.

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