Vocabulary Considerations for Teaching Mathematics

By Monroe, Eula Ewing; Panchyshyn, Robert | Childhood Education, Winter 1995 | Go to article overview

Vocabulary Considerations for Teaching Mathematics


Monroe, Eula Ewing, Panchyshyn, Robert, Childhood Education


The importance of rich and meaningful vocabulary knowledge when developing concepts is well documented and widely accepted by classroom teachers; vocabulary provides access to concepts. Because mathematics material is so difficult to read, "with more concepts per word, per sentence, and per paragraph than any other area" (Schell, 1982, p. 544), it is particularly crucial to emphasize vocabulary instruction in this content area.

Necessary Vocabulary for Developing Mathematical Concepts

The vocabulary that teachers should teach to help students develop mathematical concepts can be classified into four categories: technical, subtechnical, general and symbolic.

Technical Vocabulary. Those words generally viewed as mathematical terminology are called technical vocabulary. Technical terms convey mathematical concepts that are difficult, if not impossible, to express in everyday language. Each technical term (e.g., integer, quadrilateral) has only one meaning, which is specific to mathematics. Because these terms are encountered only in mathematical contexts, and are themselves often defined with other technical terms, they are difficult to learn and remember; learning a technical vocabulary is comparable to learning a foreign language.

Subtechnical Vocabulary. Subtechnical terms have more than one meaning; these meanings vary from one content area to another or from a content area to everyday experience. Learners may know and be able to use one or more meanings for a subtechnical term, but may not necessarily know its specific mathematical meaning. Because of their multiple meanings (e.g., the volume of a cube, the volume control on the television set, the volume of world trade), these terms can be especially difficult to conceptualize. Some subtechnical terms have multiple meanings even within a mathematical context (e.g., degrees of temperature, degrees of an angle), thereby creating additional conceptual problems. Because of this nature, subtechnical terms may be even harder to learn and remember than technical terms.

General Vocabulary. Students encounter general vocabulary words in everyday language and in their usual reading experiences. Most elementary mathematics textbooks use a general vocabulary, although these words are not likely to be taught in reading class. One 1966 study found that even if students were taught all the words presented in seven different reading series at the primary level, they would be exposed to only about half the words included in mathematics textbooks for the same levels (Stauffer, 1966). Recent research indicates the problem still exists. Panchyshyn and Monroe (1992) found that more than half of the words included in elementary mathematics textbooks were not among those most frequently used in children's reading materials. A mandate for developing general vocabulary in mathematics becomes evident when these and similar findings are considered.

Symbolic Vocabulary. Symbolic vocabulary, viewed by some to be the real vocabulary of mathematics, presents its own special problems. Most reading material uses only alphabet symbols. In mathematics, however, the reader needs to recognize not only the alphabet, but also numerous nonalphabet symbols. Numerals, the most common math symbols, represent numbers, which are themselves so highly abstract that even mathematicians find them difficult to define! In addition, a given numeral can be used to convey many different meanings. For instance, consider the numeral 2 in the following numerical contexts:

52 23 [4.sup.2] 1/2 2/3 [m.sup.2]

The 2 conveys a different, and highly abstract, meaning in each context. Furthermore, the numerical expression itself can be read in different ways - [4.sup.2] can be read as "four squared," "four to the second power," etc. Adding to the potential for confusion, the same meaning can be conveyed by different symbols. Consider how learners must refocus their thinking when division is presented as 4 / 2, 2 x ?

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Vocabulary Considerations for Teaching Mathematics
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.