Skip to toolbar

Busting some common mathematics myths

Ideas to help you reflect on your own beliefs about mathematics and challenge common myths.

Home » Numeracy at home » Busting some common mathematics myths

Busting some common mathematics myths

As parents we want to help our children become numerate citizens but are not sure how best to do this.

Being numerate involves using some mathematics. Not everyone is confident with mathematics, or believes that they can do mathematics. One of the best ways we can help our children is to promote positive attitudes towards mathematics. For example, avoid making statements such as, ‘I was never any good at maths either’.

Consider the following statements and think about whether or not you agree with them.

Click on the '+' to expand the box and read more about each statement
Most mathematics does not make sense to me

Unfortunately, a lot of ‘school mathematics’ is often taught without meaning. It is difficult for students to make sense of it. It may be that your own experience of mathematics has been limited to ‘school mathematics’. You may rely on procedures and rules that you cannot readily apply to everyday contexts.

In today’s classrooms, we emphasise learning mathematics with understanding rather than remembering rules and procedures which may not ‘make sense’. Mathematics makes sense when taught with an emphasis on developing deep understanding.

Maths is a series of rules and procedures to follow

There are rules and procedures that make it useful to complete mathematical problems correctly. Yet, these are of little use if carried out with little understanding of why they work. When you went to school, were you taught the standard algorithm for working out long multiplication problems (e.g., 76 x 45)? Can you explain why it works? Do you find yourself making statements such as ‘Put down the zero’, ‘Carry the one’?

Today, the teaching emphasis is on helping children understand the underlying mathematics. Children are to develop their own strategies for working out mathematics problems. Mathematics is so much more than a series of rules and procedures to follow. At its core, mathematics is about patterns. Mathematics is a set of ideas, connections, and relationships that we use to make sense of the world.

There is one right way to do a maths problem

A strong message that we want to convey is that there are lots of ways to do maths problems. Some ways are more efficient than others, but we shouldn’t say that there is one right way to do any given problem.

Mathematics is full of uncertainty. It is more about exploring and making conjectures, rather than coming up with the right answers (Boaler, 2016).

There are right and wrong answers in mathematics. But, we should focus on how the answers are achieved, and value our children’s invented strategies for working out problems.

Men are better at maths than women

There is no evidence to suggest that males are better at maths than females. There is also no truth in the statement that we inherit our mathematical capability.

Everyone is capable of learning mathematics

There is no such thing as a ‘maths brain’. Everyone (with a few exceptions who have severe learning difficulties) has the capacity to learn mathematics. Many believe that intelligence is unchangeable. But if you have a ‘growth mindset’ (Dweck, 2012) then you believe that you can achieve. You don’t give up when the work is challenging, or when you make mistakes. Mistakes are essential for learning and result in brain growth (Boaler, 2016).

View the TEDx Talk by Professor Jo Boaler (below) for more about mathematical mindsets and potential.

Reflective Prompt

Professor Janette Bobis is a mathematics educator at the University of Sydney. She gives advice to families on helping their child feel good about maths.

“Many parents are scared of maths or think they just can’t do it, but it’s the worst thing you can tell your children…When parents tell their children that they themselves can’t do it, it means they’re communicating messages that it’s OK not to be good at maths, which can carry all the way through high school.”

What beliefs about mathematics do you pass on to others around you?

How would you help your child to develop positive attitudes towards mathematics?

Reflective Prompt

Professor Janette Bobis is a mathematics educator at the University of Sydney. She gives advice to families on helping their child feel good about maths.

“Many parents are scared of maths or think they just can’t do it, but it’s the worst thing you can tell your children…When parents tell their children that they themselves can’t do it, it means they’re communicating messages that it’s OK not to be good at maths, which can carry all the way through high school.”

What beliefs about mathematics do you pass on to others around you?

How would you help your child to develop positive attitudes towards mathematics?

Attention Global2 users: Department-funding for Global2 is being discontinued.

The Department of Education and Training will not be funding the use of Global2 past the end of the current contract on 31st of December 2020.

Please refer to FUSE for further details on the discontinuation of funding and transition options available for schools.