‘It is argued that children learn best when they participate in activities that are relevant to them, hold their attention and require them to make meaning for themselves. This approach is based on the theory of learning known as constructivism.’ (Westwood, 2000) For individual students, they must construct their own understanding through learning. If the learning process is not correct, this creates misconceptions which can then inhibit further progress with mathematical skills.
Number skills are the underlying key component in mathematical understanding. If students do not have a firm grasp on these in early years, it may impact future growth and therefore high priority is given to these concepts within classrooms.
Number skills include understanding in:
Reading and writing numbers
Using the four processes of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division
Understanding the concepts of equivalence
Understanding place value
Recognising numbers in different forms, for example common fractions, decimal fractions and percentages
Interpreting the signs, symbols associated with operations
Using a calculator
(National statement on mathematics for Australian schools: Australian Education Council 1991)
Fluency in mathematics is not only about the speed at which calculations are made but the ability to also use skills across a range of unfamiliar situations. Whilst calculators are now readily available on many devices, students require the understanding to know the ‘why’ behind the process. More flexibility is now given to students to be able to display their learning in many forms and part of this is the capacity to explain their thinking. There is no longer one way of doing things. Mathematical language is as high of an importance as comprehension is when reading. The use of concrete materials is an excellent way for students to be able to verbalise the strategies used to explain mathematical concepts.
Over the last few years, the role of group work, questioning and peer tutoring has been implemented and increased in many Primary classrooms. This enables students and teachers to clarify misconceptions and find the point of where students are at to directly target teaching strategies and content knowledge.
The next time you are driving in the car with your child/children, have a discussion based on mathematics and the world around them. Mental work, including the learning of tables and number facts linked to real life problems, or purposeful investigations with number patterns and relationships to identify will help increase mathematical language and understanding.
Director of Primary