a Texas A&M study found 70% of middle grade students didn’t fully understand the equal sign.
“The equal sign is pervasive and fundamentally linked to mathematics from kindergarten through upper-level calculus,” Robert M. Capraro says. “The idea of symbols that convey relative meaning, such as the equal sign and “less than” and “greater than” signs, is complex and they serve as a precursor to ideas of variables, which also require the same level of abstract thinking.”
The problem is students memorize procedures without fully understanding the mathematics, he notes.
“Students who have learned to memorize symbols and who have a limited understanding of the equal sign will tend to solve problems such as 4+3+2=( )+2 by adding the numbers on the left, and placing it in the parentheses, then add those terms and create another equal sign with the new answer,” he explains. “So the work would look like 4+3+2=(9)+2=11.