Revisiting decimal misconceptions from a new perspective: The significance of whole number bias in the Chinese culture

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Journal Article
Journal of Mathematical Behavior, 2017, 47 pp. 96 - 108
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© 2017 The aim of this study was to investigate Hong Kong Grade 4 students' understanding of the decimal notation system including their knowledge of decimal quantities. This is a unique study because most previous studies were conducted in Western cultural settings; therefore we were interested to see whether Chinese students have the same kinds of misconceptions as Western students given the Chinese number naming system is relatively transparent and explicit. Three hundred and forty-one students participated in a written test on decimal numbers. Thirty-two students were interviewed to further explore their mathematical reasoning. In summary, the results indicated that many students had mastered reasonable knowledge of decimal notation and quantities, which may be attributed to the Chinese linguistic clarity of decimal numbers. More importantly, the results showed that some students' construction of decimal concepts have been adversely affected by persistent misconceptions arising from whole number bias. Two kinds of whole number misconceptions, namely “-ths suffix error” and “reversed place value progression error”, were revealed in this study. This paper suggests that a framework theory approach to conceptual change may be an alternative approach to addressing students' learning difficulties in decimals.
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