The equal sign: Teachers’ specialised content knowledge and Learners’ misconceptions.
Numerical and algebraic equations require understanding of the equal sign as an equivalence relation. Teachers and learners, however, often have an operational, rather than a relational, understanding of the equal sign. This conception is viewed as a misconception. This study investigates the extent to which Grade 6 learners at a particular school have this and other misconceptions regarding equality, with the equal sign as focus. It also investigates this school’s Grade 1 to 6 teachers’ specialised content knowledge (SCK) regarding equality, again focusing on the equal sign. Ultimately the study wishes to establish whether there might be a possible relationship between the level of these teachers’ SCK of the equal sign and learners’ misconceptions of the equal sign. In particular, it tries to answer the question whether teachers’ SCK of the equal sign could possibly promote or prevent the forming of such misconceptions in learners, as well as whether teachers’ SCK of the equal sign could possibly help them identify learners’ misconceptions and help learners form the correct conceptions. This research project is framed within an interpretive paradigm. It focuses on one school taking the form of a theory-led case study in which a mixed method approach is used. Data collection methods include teacher questionnaires followed by two focus group interviews with teachers, based on data collected from questionnaires. In addition, data is collected through a series of lesson observations on number concepts and assessment. Grade 6 learners answered a set of questions structured in the form of a test to investigate their understanding of equality and the equal sign. Six learners were purposefully selected, based on their answers to the questions, and interviewed. Although this school is a high-performing academic school, results indicate that few learners have a flexible operational or basic relational view of the equal sign. The same group of learners that struggle with closure seems to struggle with the misconception of using all the numbers in an equation to solve a particular equation. The majority of Grade 6 learners cannot define the equal sign correctly. According to results, the nature of Grade 1- 6 teachers’ SCK of the equal sign shows that teachers lack skills to prevent, reduce or correct misconceptions about the equal sign.