How to Help Your Child Better Understand the Equal Sign

For many of us, the equal sign seems pretty straightforward. There doesn’t seem to be anything complicated about it, and we’re confused when our homeschoolers can’t grasp equations that seem simple, and the meaning of equivalence. But a new study shows that many children have this problem–elementary students in particular.

While research on students’ misconceptions of the equal sign isn’t anything new, the findings from this study further confirm what has long been a challenge.

With research involving a large and randomized sample of students in grades 1-5, it was found yet again that most students have a misunderstanding of the equal sign. Not many understand it as having a relational definition, indicating that something is “the same as” something else. 

As a result, the researchers recommendation is to make a shift in our teaching approach on the subject. How? Here are two practical ways to do this:

  1. When teaching equivalence, swap out the phrase “equals” for “the same as.”
  2. Introduce a variety of equations, such as those with operations on either side of the equal sign

If your elementary school-aged child has been struggling with equations, give these strategies a try to get them over the hump.Ralston, N., & Li, M. (2022). Student conceptions of the equal sign. The Elementary School Journal, 122(3), 411–432. https://doi.org/10.1086/717999

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