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Tamara Congdon 17409414

An individuals beliefs on teaching mathematics in primary schools

Mathematics is all around us; in buildings, books, furniture, science, cars,

nature and anywhere else you can think of. From a very young age, children
develop understanding in their world through pattern, order, distance, depth and
strategies for problem solving (Sanders, 2012). Although these young minds do
not know that they are learning mathematical concepts, they develop these
perceptions to make sense of their world. When they start primary school
however, it is the teachers duty to further develop their knowledge and
understanding of mathematics. In this essay, I will be discussing my beliefs on
how to teach mathematics and how I have come to these beliefs. This will
include theories and teaching strategies such as rote learning verses
understanding, algorithms verses mental computation and work sheets verses
physical construction. I will reflect and analyse my personal experience when
learning mathematics and previous work experience in a primary school setting
and thus discuss my beliefs concerning what was efficient and what was not. I
will then conclude by stating how I intend to conduct my future mathematical

Rote learning is an ineffective way to learn and teach. Learning

mathematics is a challenge in itself for some students, and rote learning will not
improve students understanding of mathematics. I will be using the common
example of multiplication facts to support my argument. Teaching students
multiplication facts using rote methods, such as chanting, rapping and sticking
times tables on walls to memorise them, is a far less effective way than other
methods that can be used (Swan & Sparrow 2000). When I was learning, my
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Tamara Congdon 17409414

grade three teacher made the class chant the times tables over and over. This
was not an ideal way to learn as it made students dislike the teacher and
possibly dislike mathematics in general. I personally was reluctant to memorise
the multiplication facts because I did not see how it was relevant in real life.
Learning mathematics and the multiplication facts should be fun and
challenging. Through lessons, problem solving, drawing and grouping objects,
students should develop the concept of multiplication and be comfortable in
knowing how to work a problem out and relate it to addition and subtraction and
real life examples. However, for students to fully understand the concept of
multiplication, they first would have to be fluent and comfortable with place
value, doubling numbers, addition and subtraction, the commutative principle
and how to estimate (Sanders, 2012). After students know how to multiply and
divide, generally teachers will teach them how to solve long multiplication using

In most of the schools around Victoria (Australia), horizontal algorithms are

taught to students at a primary school level (Victorian Essential Learning
Standards, 2007, para. 7). However, it has been argued that horizontal
algorithms should not be taught before the age of 9, if at all in primary school
(McIntosh, 1977; Clarke, 2001; Sanders, 2012). Algorithms can be defined as a
finite, step-by-step procedure for accomplishing a task that we wish to complete
(Usiskin, 1998 cited in Clarke 2001 p 1). Although some algorithms can be done
mentally, I will be discussing horizontally written algorithms for the purposes of
this essay. Written algorithms can be seen as an advantage because it is reliable,
fast and is easy for teachers to understand where the students went wrong
(Plunkett 1979, Usiskin 1998 cited in Clarke 2001 p. 1). However, there are

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Tamara Congdon 17409414

many disadvantages as well, some including the un-teaching of place value,
blind acceptance of results without understanding why, encouraging students to
give up their own thinking and imagination of problem solving ways and it is not
the way people tend to think about numbers which may confuse some people
(Kamii, 1998; McIntosh, 1998; Usiskin, 1998 cited in Clarke 2001 p2). When I was
younger and learning algorithms to solve equations for addition, subtraction,
multiplication and division, I did not know there was another way to solve such
problems which made me accept it without challenging it. With this knowledge, I
needed a pen and paper to solve equations with larger numbers, as I could not
do it in my head. I am now challenging this disadvantage I have, and am
becoming more aware of other efficient and more realistic ways of solving an
equation. Because I am now reflecting on my own past experiences and have
now been taught other ways to learn mathematics, I agree with McIntosh (1977),
Clarke (2001) and Sanders (2012) theory that written equations should not be
taught at a young age.

Although I trust what this research has shown me, I believe it is

impractical not to teach algorithms to students at a young age. The first reason
being I would have to convince other teachers to delay their teaching of
algorithms. In my experience, teacher planning appears to be a certain thing in
schools, it would be assumed that same grade teachers would decide to teach
algorithms at the same time, and thus would be unfair for students to postpone
learning algorithms when their peers are. Secondly, I believe you cannot unteach algorithms. If previous teachers had explained to my students the
importance of algorithms and not been introduced to other strategies, I would
image it would be difficult to convert them. From my observations, there are

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Tamara Congdon 17409414

plenty of adults who imagine solving written algorithms (as if writing them down
in their head) when asked to solve a problem. I can show them the number of
different ways to mentally solve a problem in the year that I have them, but if
the teachers that follow me, wish to see problems solved with the traditional
algorithm method, and the childrens parents or other adult influences teach
them the only way they might know how to do it, then I doubt the class will
remember what I taught them.

I do however believe that there are steps to introducing written

algorithms to students. Before I would even think of teaching written algorithms
to my students, I will have to know my students have a sound understanding of
place value, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, the value of the equals
sign, various ways of doing mental computation (and preferably chosen an
efficient and preferred method of their own), written problems which they would
design an equation of their own to solve it and be comfortable in showing their
own working out. Then, I would get them comfortable with writing equations on
top of each other, breaking each number down to emphasise place value:

753 + 309

(700+50+3) + (300+00+9)


In conjunction with this, I would teach my students to add concrete materials
such as Multi-base Arithmetic Blocks (MAB or base-ten blocks) and icy pole sticks. This
is done by adding the ones up first, so if you needed, can change the ones and
make it a ten and then add it to the tens pile (McAdam, 2007). As shown above,
the 3 and 9 equals 12, so that would trade 10 ones for a ten and leave 2 ones.
This would give the students an understanding of why the first number of sum

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Tamara Congdon 17409414

adds to the next column when they start to learn the full algorithm. By
introducing this in steps, there will be no confusion about place value or why
numbers are placed in certain places. This will then aid the learning and teaching
of more complicated algorithms such as subtraction, multiplication and division.

Physically constructing and manipulating objects to work out a problem is

far more useful than completing sheets upon sheets of questions and answers.
McInosh (1977) argues that teachers should use materials and start from
practical activities when teaching young children (McIntosh, 1977). In my work
experience with grade 1 and 2, the students were learning volume and thus had
to copy a sheet to construct the same image using connector blocks. They had
to count the number of blocks on the sheet and make sure they add up in real
life. This taught them to copy an image on paper then transfer it to real life and
to count the blocks and not each side. Beswick (2006) states that students
should be given opportunities to reflect on and evaluate their own mathematical
understanding, but in this activity, the teacher failed to do this. I did not feel the
students knew why they were doing this or what they have learnt from it. This
construction of activities emphasises team work, creative problem solving and
constructing a physical image so it makes a more memorable memory. Betina
Przybylak (personal communication, September 7, 2012) says how am I helping
my students discover and problem solve if I give them the answer? This is a very
powerful statement as it demonstrates that a learning environment where the
teacher just says the answers to the class is not teaching the students anything.

We can also play games with the class to emphasis problem solving, group
discussion and team work, learn pattern in numbers and make mathematics fun.
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Tamara Congdon 17409414

My tutor Betina Przybylak (2012) gave me a lot of games to play with students
such as buzz (to learn patterns within multiplication), bowl a fact (learning a
variety of ways a number can be added up to) and traffic lights (to practice place
value and problem solving). In my grade 1 and 2 classroom, I was told to play a
game with four grade ones to practice their addition. The game was played with
a deck of cards; I would separate the cards in two piles and flip the top two cards
which then had to be added by the small group. I noticed this was too easy for
one of the girls, so I added another zero onto the equation for her. This was okay,
but a bit messy to conduct different sums for different people, and I was quickly
losing their interest. One of the girls wanted to play snap with the cards, but I
still wanted to make it a mathematics game; so I made one up on the spot. Each
player got a hand of five cards, I would flip two cards over again but the players
had to add that up, and then look in their hands for another sum to equal the one
in front. For example, I would flip over a 3 and 7, and they would have to see if
any of their cards added to ten. This was a good game as it involved everyones
abilities and interests. I am happy I was able to manipulate a couple of games
into one and challenge them at the same time, while having fun. All of these
games can be manipulated into suiting the group of students you are with, which
involves being creative as a teacher.

With all of these things listed above, I conclude that my future classes will
be fun, interactive and challenging whilst the students are learning. There will be
nothing my students will need to rote learn without being able to work it out
themselves. This includes teaching them different strategies for learning
multiplication facts and thus will not be a race or a test. I will avoid teaching
written algorithms, but if necessary, I will teach them gradually so they

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completely understand the algorithms when introduced to them. I will encourage
the students own ways of solving a problem and emphasis that algorithms are
only another way to work problems out. I will assure my class is fun and practical
while relating it to their lives so it seems of relevance to them. I ask you to take
note that this is only my first year of studying to be a primary school teacher and
thus my experience in primary schools is limited regardless of gaining experience
where ever I can get. This being said, my views on these issues may change and
alter as my perceptions develop.


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Beswick, K. (2006) The importance of mathematics teachers beliefs.
Australian Mathematics Teacher. 62 (4) 2006.
Clarke, D. (2001, March). Young children and the teaching of algorithms:
What can we learn from research? Early Numeracy Research Project Professional
Development Day (1-9). Australian Catholic University.
McAdam, J. F. (2007) Prospective teachers use of concrete representations
to construct an understanding of addition and subtraction algorithms. In W.
Martin, M Strutchens & P. Elliot (Eds.) The learning of mathematics. Sixty-ninth
yearbook of the National Council of Teaching Mathematics.
McIntosh, A. (1977). When will they ever learn? Forum, 19(3), 6-11.
Sanders, P. (2012). EDU1TNA, Lecture 2, Topic 1, Young children as
mathematicians [PowerPoint Slides]. Retrieved from Department of Education, La
Trobe University, LMS web site: https://lms.latrobe.edu.au
Sanders, P. (2012). EDU1TNA, Lecture 6, Topic 1, Teaching strategies for
multiplication and division [PowerPoint Slides]. Retrieved from Department of
Education, La Trobe University, LMS web site: https://lms.latrobe.edu.au
Swan, P., Sparrow, L. (2000). Tapes, toilet doors and tables : fluency with
multiplication facts. Mathematics: shaping the future (pp. 233-241).
Victorian Essential Learning Standards (2007). Structure of the
Mathermatics Domain. Retrieved from

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