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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

lessons.

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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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

algorithms.

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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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.

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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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.

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

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

1,062

+300+00+9

1,000+50+12

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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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.

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.

5 | Page

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

6 | Page

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.

References

7 | Page

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

http://vels.vcaa.vic.edu.au/maths/structure.html

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