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Learning Maths in Primary School

Learning Maths in Primary School – for Parents

Adults take for granted the daily use of basic arithmetic. When pottering around a department store, shoppers don’t think twice about mentally calculating what two pairs of shoes might cost, or how much a 30% discount might save. But, for children, maths in primary school is an exciting voyage of discovery: how to add, subtract, multiply and divide numbers. And, although at this age, adding up jellybeans may be more important than buying shoes, the theory is the same. There are lots of ways to make maths fun!

Most current-day shoe shoppers will have learnt to add-up in a vertical fashion, i.e. writing 56 beneath 23, and adding the columns, including ‘carrying over’ numbers when appropriate. Contrast this with our current-day jellybean counters who are learning maths in primary school, who now learn in a linear fashion. ‘Jump’ or ‘split’ methods are just two of the processes taught in today’s classrooms.

For the jump method, imagine a horizontal line with notches from 1 to 100. The child, who will work first in tens and then in units, will start at the 56 and ‘jump’ two jumps of 10, thus completing the tens. They will then ‘jump’ the three units.

learning mathematics in primary school, image of a graph of the jump strategy

The Spilt method – Cannon Hill Anglican College’s Year 1 teacher, Carolyn Troughton, uses an illustration of a part-peeled banana to engage her students in the ‘split’ method, i.e. splitting the tens and the units into different areas. ‘The children love working with the banana split!’ said Carolyn. ‘They have fun, while visually comprehending the concept of splitting tens and units.’

‘One of the reasons for the change in teaching methods,’ said Carolyn, ‘is the desire to move away from rote learning. There is a much greater emphasis on having students understand how they arrive at answers and being able to justify the reasonableness of their thinking. By using an operational approach, children get a better understanding of what is happening with the numbers; they can visualise the number jumping along the line in tens and units and getting higher and higher.’

‘Students will progress to the vertical system in time but, in the younger years, the focus on the jump and split methods provides a sound basis for justifying the reasonableness (or otherwise) of an answer. Children are not just calculating the bottom line, they are visualising how the numbers progress to the bottom line.’

Lachlan and Angus - Mathletics
CHAC’s Year 1 students, Lachlan and Angus, collaborate on their Mathletics tasks, assigned by the teacher.

It is now standard practice to see students move between group and individual work. Teachers will use different methods, targeted to each individual student’s ability so, for example, when learning to add two numbers together, children may be encouraged to use ladybugs in the following ways:

Group 1 – physically stick ladybugs onto their own 3D foam tree

Group 2 – draw their own tree and draw the ladybugs onto the tree

Group 3 – use counters or blocks to represent the ladybugs

Group 4 – use digits and mathematical symbols only.

‘We know there are different learning styles so learning maths in primary school must cater for this, thus, the more success we are allowing our students,’ said Carolyn. ‘Additionally, students develop their understanding of mathematical concepts at different rates. A flexible approach is needed to allow students to develop understandings at their current level before pushing them to progress to a way of solving a problem that is beyond their current understanding.’

Mathletics – an interactive online program – is another way in which teachers enhance and reinforce classroom learning, by assigning ability-appropriate tasks. The students enjoy the engagement and it reinforces their fluency in the concepts being taught at school.

‘Learning mathematics should be a fun-filled pursuit,’ said Carolyn. ‘Whether physically acting out passengers getting on and off a bus, adding ladybugs to a tree, or drawing their own banana split, the children constantly learn and reinforce the fundamental principles of maths, in an engaging and interactive manner – physically, digitally and mentally.’

It all adds up to a solid foundation for the day when these students hit those shoe sales!

Carolyn Troughton is a Year 1 teacher at Cannon Hill Anglican College

This article was published in Issue 11 of our print magazine, August/September 2015.

Photo of author

Janine Mergler

Janine Mergler is a veteran Queensland teacher, graduating from QUT with a BEd majoring in Social Sciences. After many years in the classroom, Janine moved on to academia. She has proudly trained new generations of teachers in her role as a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education. She has also worked in the Queensland Government as an education specialist, developing education resources and delivering community awareness programs to help families conserve water. Currently she is the owner and editor of Families Magazine, a publication specifically targeted at parents who value a quality education for children.  Janine leads a team of professionals who write about family lifestyle, early childhood, schools and education information and family-friendly events.

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