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Rational Number Project Home Page

Post, T., & Cramer, K. (1989, March). Knowledge, Representation and

Quantitative Thinking. In M. Reynolds (Ed.) Knowledge Base for the
Beginning Teacher - Special publication of the AACTE (pp. 221-231).
Oxford: Pergamon Press.


Knowledge, Representation, and

Quantitative Thinking1
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

University of Wisconsin, River Falls

Mathematics is pervasive! Everyone, regardless of background or

interests, uses numerical, spatial, and analytic ideas in thinking about and
describing the real world. Therefore it is important for teachers - and
students - to understand how these ideas are (or should be) developed
and maintained and how to distinguish between bona fide numerical
concepts and the rote manipulation of symbols.

Unfortunately, many new teachers have grown up with mathematics

curricula that lacked development of deep mathematical structures,
concentrating instead on drill and practice and providing standard
answers to familiar questions. Fortunately, major advances are underway
in theory development and enlarging the scope of school mathematics.
Mathematics programs of the early 1990’s will not resemble those of even
five years earlier. Geometry, estimation, graphical interpretation,
computer literacy, calculator usage and probability and statistics are likely
to play a much more prominent role in the school mathematics program
of the future. Teachers, therefore, will not be able to teach the way they
have been taught, nor will they have a priori knowledge of all appropriate
content areas. Virtually all beginning teachers will need to acquire new
pedagogical skills as well as new mathematical understandings. This is a
formidable yet challenging task! This chapter outlines the nature of those
impending changes and suggests ways they can be implemented.

What is important for all beginning teachers to know about the

acquisition, use, and maintenance of quantitative thinking skills? To
answer this question it is important first to consider (a) how children
learn mathematics, and (b) what mathematics should be taught.

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In the following sections we will examine both issues. We will explain the
importance of conceptual and procedural knowledge in teaching
quantitative understandings to children, and the role of representation in
the acquisition of mathematical concepts. We also will discuss current
thinking related to the question of what kinds of skills should be taught
and the present and future influences of technology on the scope,
sequencing, and presentation of mathematics curricula.

How Children Learn Mathematics



Issues relating to skill learning (Gagne, 1985; Thorndike, 1922) as

opposed to principle learning or understanding (Brownell, 1935; Bruner,
1960), concepts as opposed to procedures (Piaget, 1978), and "knowing
that" and "knowing how to" (Scheffler, 1965), have received a good deal
of attention and debate during the last century.

In earlier years the debate characterized these basically different types of

knowledge-concepts and procedures-as having diametrically opposed and
seemingly unrelated natures. Current discussions, however, have
emphasized the relationships between concepts and procedures. There is
growing recognition in the mathematics education research community of
the importance of the interaction between the two forms of knowledge
and the role each can play in the development and maintenance of the
other (Davis 1984; Davis & McKnight, 1980). Mathematics educators
generally agree that knowledge of concepts is the foundation for
intuitions and procedures and that a teacher should be concerned with
the development of both conceptual and procedural knowledge.

Conceptual knowledge is knowledge that is rich in relationships. It can be

thought of as a connected web of knowledge, a network in which the
linking relationships are as important as the discrete pieces of
information. By definition, a piece of information is part of conceptual
knowledge only if the holder recognizes its relationship to other pieces of
information (Hiebert & Lefevre, 1986). When previously independent
pieces of information are organized and related to one another there is a
dramatic and significant cognitive reorganization (Lawler, 1981). Piaget
referred to this process as accommodation. It is through such reflective
mental activity that intellectual growth occurs.

Relationships can be established on two levels (Lawler, 1981). On one

level, understanding emanates from the ideas embedded within the
context in which they are presented, that is, context-specific
understanding. On the second level, relationships are understood in a
"context free" environment where appropriate abstractions have been
made. This latter level is the sine qua non of the professional
mathematician, but too often ignored or unrecognized at the school level.

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Procedural knowledge in mathematics is composed of two parts:

knowledge of the formal language of mathematics, that is, symbols and
syntax; and the rules, algorithms, or procedures used to solve
mathematical tasks (Hiebert & Lefevre, 1986). The former implies only an
awareness of superficial features, not a knowledge of meaning or
underlying structure; the latter consists of step-by-step instructions that
define precisely how to complete mathematical tasks or exercises in a
predetermined linear sequence. The rules lend themselves to mechanical
reproduction and can be implemented without conceptual understanding,
although this is not necessarily the case. In contrast, conceptual
knowledge must always be learned meaningfully.

Unfortunately, most school mathematics curricula are overly concerned

with developing procedural knowledge in the form of speed and accuracy
in using computational algorithms rather than the development of higher
order thought processes, such as those used in problem solving,
deductive reasoning, and logical inference. This is true throughout the
elementary, junior high, and senior high school levels. For example, at
the elementary level, students are found practicing the long division
algorithm, while at higher levels they spend considerable time on the rote
manipulation of algebraic sentences or on solving quadratic equations. In
short, procedural knowledge dominates school mathematics curricula at
virtually all levels.

Shirley Hill, a past president of the National Council of Teachers of

Mathematics, commented on phenomenon. "It struck me as supremely
ironic that at the very time we are on the threshold of teaching machines
to reason, we are spending an inordinate amount of our educational
energies teaching our children mechanistic skills" (Hill, 1979, p. 2).
Unfortunately, things have not changed very much. A 1987 survey (Post
& Orton, 1987) of elementary and junior high school teachers in a
Minneapolis school district indicated that slightly over 50% of
mathematics instructional time is spent developing speed and accuracy in
paper and pencil calculations. Another 16% is spent on textbook word
problems. Thus 2/3 of students' time is spent dealing with text-related
activities. Yet it is generally agreed that concepts initially evolve through
interaction with the environment, not with the printed page. Since
Minneapolis is considered one of the nation’s more progressive urban
educational systems, the percentage of time spent on procedural
knowledge might be even higher in the nation's schools as a whole.

Here are a few examples showing how concept knowledge and procedural
knowledge differ:

1. Procedural knowledge: A child can simply memorize addition or

multiplication facts, but has difficulty reconstructing a fact when
memory fails.

Conceptual knowledge: A child can understand that 9 + 4 can be

rewritten as 9 + (1 + 3), or (9 + 1) + 3, or 10 + 3 = 13. This type

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of procedure can be used to generate any addition fact, even

multidigit ones, such as 27 + 36 = 27 + (3 + 33) = (27 + 3) + 33 =
63. Likewise: 7 x 6 can be interpreted (6 x 6) + 6 = 42. These are
instances of concept knowledge since they focus on the relationships
between the numbers and the arithmetical operations.

2. Procedural knowledge: A child can divide two fractions using the

invert and multiply procedure: 1/2 + 2/3 = 1/2 x 3/2 = 3/4. This is
not usually a meaningful activity because most individuals (adults
included) use the procedure without understanding it.

Conceptual knowledge: From a conceptual perspective this

complex procedure requires basic understanding of the relationships
between division, multiplication, the notion of inverse, a thorough
understanding of fractions, and the ability to interpret the magnitude
of the result in terms of the original situation (i.e., since 2/3 is
greater than 1/2, the quotient should less than 1). The depth of
understanding needed suggests that this skill should be delayed until
greater knowledge has been acquired. The fact that the invert and
multiply procedure is so easily accomplished does not justify its
inclusion in the curriculum.

3. Procedural knowledge: If 7/8 were added to 12/13 would the

result be closer to 1,2, 19, or 21? This problem appeared in a recent
version of the National Assessment for Educational Progress (Post,
1981). Only 23% of the nation's 13-year-olds selected the correct
answer. Over half (55%) thought the answer was 19 or 21, the
result of adding numerators or denominators. Such answers indicate
complete misunderstanding of the concept.

Conceptual knowledge: A correct, conceptually based approach

would be, "7/8 is about 1, and 12/13 is about 1, therefore their sum
is about 2." Instead of using this commonsense approach based on
conceptual knowledge, the majority of students tried a procedure
(probably from memory) to find a solution.

The issues surrounding procedural- and conceptual- based knowledge no

doubt can be found in other disciplines as well. Sometimes the interplay
between them is subtle. At other times it is quite overt. For our purposes
it is enough to be aware of the issue and the educational implications of
requiring students to process and retain significant amounts of
information which is not conceptually based. Procedural knowledge can be
learned and applied without the appropriate conceptual underpinnings.
Under such conditions, higher order thought processes (which may
deviate from learned procedures or require the application or extension of
learned ideas) are highly improbable.

Both procedural and conceptual quantitative knowledge are vital.

Mathematics requires the execution of a wide variety of procedures.
Ideally these procedures are derived from fundamental conceptual

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understandings, which extends the process beyond rote manipulation and

increases the potential for intellectual growth.

One way to gauge individual growth in mathematics is to observe the

degree and extent to which conceptual knowledge is reinterpreted as
procedural knowledge. That is, the degree to which the individual has
enlarged the nature and scope of the mathematical situations which can
be reacted to in a comfortable and routine fashion. The danger, of course,
lies in premature abstraction and the mindless manipulation of symbols
without the appropriate conceptual underpinnings.


Mathematics is often used to represent the world in which we live. As

such there must be a correspondence between some aspects of the
represented world and some aspects of the representing world. The
abstract relationships or mapping between these two can be thought of as
applied mathematical structures. They are useful in the discipline at all
levels and also form the essence of mathematical conceptual
development in school-aged children. This relationship is illustrated in
Figure 19.1.

Figure 19.1 Manipulative materials and learning

Representations can be viewed as the facilitators which enable linkages

between the real world and the mathematical world. Formulae, tables,

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graphs, numerals, equations, and manipulative materials all are

mathematical "objects" used to represent various real world ideas and
relationships. At a more advanced stage these "objects" themselves can
be represented by formulae, tables, and so forth. That is, mathematical
concepts can be viewed as tools to help with understanding new
situations and problems and also as objects that can be investigated in
their own right. Translations within and between these "objects"
constitute the essence of mathematical activity.

Questions about the nature of knowledge, the nature of one who knows
(or the one who learns), the "transmitability" (or lack thereof) of
knowledge and conditions under which learning most effectively occurs
have persisted since 500 B.C. A problem results from a view of knowledge
which requires a match between the cognitive structures themselves and
what those structures are supposed to represent. The difficulty here is
that it is never possible to determine how well our (or others') mental
structures represent what they are intended to represent, for such
assessment "lies forever on the other side of our experimental interface"
(Von Glaserfeld, 1987). Since we can never step outside of ourselves and
achieve a truly objective perspective, a different view of what it is "to
know" is required, one which is not based on a correspondence with

Such a view was stated by Osiander in 1627 in his retort to the critics of
Copernicus' revolutionary idea that the Earth was not the center of the
universe. He said, "There is no need for these hypotheses to be true, or
even to be at all like the truth; rather one thing is sufficient for them -
that they yield calculations which agree with the observations" (Popper,

This second conception of knowledge, one that fits our observations, has
profound implications for education and instruction and for the
organization of experience. Piaget (1952) characterized this situation as
follows: "Intelligence organizes the world by organizing itself." Thus, an
individual's experiences and their subsequent reorganization become the
beginning, middle, and end points of conceptual development and the
concomitant evolution of intelligent action.

But how can one directly experience a number which is, by its very
nature, an abstraction? The answer is that one cannot, but it is possible
to experience representations of it. Representation is, therefore, a crucial
component in the development of mathematical understanding and
quantitative thinking. Without it, mathematics would be totally abstract,
largely philosophical, and probably inaccessible to the majority of the
populace. With it, mathematical ideas can be modeled, important
relationships explicated, and understandings fostered through a careful
construction and sequencing of appropriate experiences and observations.
It is currently held that it is the translation between different
representations of mathematical ideas, and the translations between
common experience and the abstract symbolic representation of those

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experiences, that make mathematical ideas meaningful for children.

Bruner (1966) suggested three modes of representation-enactive, iconic,

and symbolic-for modeling mathematical ideas for children. Intuitively
these modes suggest a linear temporal ordering: first, enactive; second,
iconic (pictures); and last, symbols. This logic has been so persuasive
that several decades of mathematics textbooks have sequenced their
content with conscious or unconscious adherence to this model.
Unfortunately, this issue is more complex than Bruner implies, and almost
surely involves nonlinearity and requires additional modes. Lesh (1979)
suggested adding two additional modes, spoken language and real world
problem situations. Most importantly, he stressed the interactive nature
of these various types of representations, that is, often several modes will
exist concurrently in a problem solving setting and individuals will
routinely re-employ a variety of representations and sequences of
representation as they reorganize problem components and
interrelationships between them. Figure 19.2 illustrates Lesh's model.

Figure 19.2 Lesh's model for translations between modes of


The Rational Number Project (Post, Behr, Lesh, & Wachsmuth, 1985), in a
series of research projects supported by the National Science Foundation,
has, over the past decade, utilized this framework in the development of
its own theory-based instructional units. This project corroborated the
interactive nature of student approaches and has found the use of

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predetermined mode translation tasks to be a powerful stimulus to the

acquisition of various rational number concepts (fraction, part-whole
ideas, ratio, decimal, operator, a measurement interpretations).

For example, the concept of adding fractions can taught using several
translations. A translation from written symbol to manipulative mode can
be shown by asking a child to model the sum 1/2 + 1/4 with manipulative
materials, such as fraction circles. Similarly, using the illustration shown
in Figure 19.3, translation from pictorial mode to written symbols can be
achieved by asking the child to write a number sentence for each step in
the addition problem (1/2 + 1/4; 1/2 = 2/4; 2/4 + 1/4 = 3/4).

Figure 19.3 Translation from pictorial mode to written symbols.

A within-mode translation (manipulative to manipulative) occurs when a

student is given a manipulative display showing, for example, fraction
circles, and ask to model the same idea with fraction bars, as shown
Figure 19.4. Such translations cannot be made unless the person
understands the concept under consideration as presented in the original
mode. Further, such translations require the reinterpretation (or
reorganization to use Piaget's term) of the concept in order to display it in
another mode or with another material in the same mode. Such
understandings and reinterpretations are important cognitive processes
and are to be encouraged in the teaching/learning process. It is for this
reason that the Lesh model is such a powerful tool for the classroom
teacher. While good teachers probably have been inadvertently using
aspects of these ideas in their interactions with children, the model makes
explicit what has been implicit up to this point. In general, it is the
translations within and between modes of representation that make ideas
meaningful for children. Such a view promotes a dynamic rather than a
static view of mathematical conceptual development. In addition, it
promotes recognition of appropriate patterns, identification of similarities,
recognizing and sorting crucial and noncrucial variables, and ultimately
encourages applying new ideas to traditional methods.

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Figure 19.4 Manipulative to manipulative translation

Such translations are useful not only in mathematics learning and

quantitative thinking, but can be applied as well to instruction in other
content domains, notably the natural and social sciences. For example,
the ability to understand and interpret ratios and rates is essential. In
both natural and social science domains. Concepts such as speed, density,
mixture, voltage, exchange rates, percentages, force, solubility,
acceleration, concentration, unit costs, pricing, productivity, supply and
demand, income distribution, GNP, unemployment, and inflation are all
expressed as rates; students, when encountering these concepts in other
disciplines, should focus on the similarities and differences of their
meaning and interpretation, for it is the realization of their similarities
which will foster the evolution of more encompassing cognitive schemas
(Kaput, 1987). Such reorganizations are at the core of intellectual
development (Piaget, 1952, 1960).

What Mathematics Should be Taught


Several national and international reports recently have bemoaned the

relatively low levels of student achievement in mathematics along with
concern about the overall quality of mathematics instruction. The
Cockcroft Report published in 1982 revolutionized mathematics
instruction in the United Kingdom. Its major recommendations are
relevant to mathematics instruction everywhere. The report suggested
initially that mathematics instruction at all levels should include
exposition by the teacher. The study revealed that in classes where
instruction is strongly guided by the textbook, most of the students' time
is spent in independent seatwork. Too often students do not benefit from
the teacher's insights relating to the content. More of the teacher's time
needs to be spent teaching mathematics, during which time students and
teacher should be involved in verbal exchanges about the subject.

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The report also stresses the need for practical, "hands on" activities to
develop mathematical concepts before emphasizing the practice of skills
and procedures. Instruction that includes problem solving, applications,
and an interdisciplinary approach to mathematics instruction was also

Organizations in this country also are looking at the structure of our

schools' mathematics programs. There is a great deal of similarity
between the Cockcroft Report and the mathematics reform movement in
this country.

Revising the mathematics curriculum to better reflect the needs of an

expanding technological society has been the major concern of
mathematics and supervisors since the mid-1970s. Those concerned have
organized to counter the influence of the "back to basics" movement of
the 1970s. The back-to-basics group suggested that the skills needed by
children in the 20th century are in fact the same skills that were needed
by children in the 19th century. Textbook companies responded by
producing books devoted primarily to developing computational skill with
paper and pencil and emphasizing speed and accuracy in addition,
subtraction, multiplication, and division with whole numbers, decimals,
and fractions.

For the schools to emphasize facility with paper and pencil computation at
the expense of higher level cognitive processes at a time when calculators
and computers are commonplace tools in the adult world is reactionary.
To emphasize computation when international studies show that American
children rank in the lower half of nearly every mathematics category
compared to children in other leading industrial nations is unacceptable.
For example, in the Second International Mathematics Study
(International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement
[IEA], 1984), eighth grade children in the United States ranked below
students in Japan and Canada in every category assessed. In
measurement and geometry, U.S. children scored in the bottom quarter
of 20 developed countries. In a more recent international study
comparing performance of children in comparable cities in Minnesota,
Japan, and China, the highest average score of an American fifth grade
class assessed was below the average score of the lowest Japanese fifth
grade class assessed (Stevenson, Shin-Ling, & Stigler, 1986).

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), in an attempt to

upgrade the quality of mathematics instruction, clarify goals, and
promote change, issued a report in 1987 entitled The Standards for
School Mathematics. The report specifies five basic goals for all students:
(a) to become a mathematical problem solver, (b) to learn to
communicate mathematically, (c) to learn to reason mathematically, (d)
to learn to value mathematics, and (e) to acquire confidence in his or her
ability to do mathematics. A new teacher should be aware of the changes
that educators hope will occur as a result of the Standards (Commission
on Standards for School Mathematics of the National Council of Teachers

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of Mathematics, 1987).

In 1977 the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM)

published a position paper presenting a new definition of basic skills. The
position paper emphasizes strongly that all students who hope to
participate successfully in adult society must be knowledgeable in these
domains (NCSM, 1977). This paper was supported by all national and
state mathematics teachers' organizations. Current textbooks are only
beginning to reflect this expanded view of what it means to be
mathematically literate. It is important that all teachers understand the
thrust of viable mathematics programs and that computational ability is
no longer the sole indicator of the mathematically literate individual. The
skills considered essential by the NCSM to further educational
opportunities are: (a) problem solving; (b) applying mathematics to
everyday situations; (c) alertness to reasonableness of result; (d)
estimation and approximation; (e) appropriate computation skills; (f)
geometry; (g) measurement; (h) reading, interpreting and constructing
tables, charts, and graphs; (i) using mathematics to predict, and (j)
computer literacy (NCSM, 1977).

As stated previously, computation is seen as only one facet of basic

mathematical skills.

The role of computational skills in mathematics must be seen in

the light of the contributions they make to one's ability to use
mathematics in everyday living. In isolation, computational
skills contribute little to one's ability to participate in
mainstream society. (NCSM, 1977, p.1)

The NCSM (1988) has recently updated the list of basic skills. The new
position paper lists 12 critical areas of mathematical competence for all
students. Problem solving, applying mathematics to everyday situations,
alertness to reasonableness of results, estimation, geometry, and
measurement will be reaffirmed as basic skills. Five new categories are:
(a) mathematical reasoning (b) communicating mathematical ideas, (c)
algebraic thinking, (d) statistics, and (e) probability. The spirit the earlier
report remains intact. Additional positions relating to instruction include
the following:

Curriculum should focus on meaningful understanding

developed from concrete experiences. Learning environment
should incorporate high expectations for all students regardless
of sex, race or socioeconomic status.

Calculators should be used by all students at all grade levels

during instruction and testing.

Computers should be used to support instruction.

There should be a moratorium on standardized tests until they

reflect updated program objectives. (NCSM, 1988, pp. 3-5)

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Within this larger conceptualization of mathematic understanding,

thinking quantitatively about numbers also assumes an expanded
definition. Quantitative thinking involves the following:

1. Mental Arithmetic: facility with single digit computation; ability to

work with powers of 10; ability to use number relationships and
properties to facilitate mental computations.

2. Number Sense: knowing when to use a particular operation; when to

use mathematics relationships; ability to monitor one's performance
when computing, as example, judging reasonableness of answer
with respect to an applied problem or by what one knows about

3. Computational Estimation: process of obtaining approximate answer

without recording devices.

4. Thinking about Number Relationships without Numbers.

What is meant by mental arithmetic skills? Here are two examples. The
first is taken from Hope's article in the 1986 Yearbook of the NCTM.
Consider the problem 99 x 8. An unskilled mental calculator will be tied
into the tedious paper and pencil algorithm to find the answer: Nine times
eight is 72. Record the two and carry the seven. Nine times eight is 72
plus seven is 79. The answer is 792. A skilled mental calculator sees 99 x
8 as one group of eight less than 100 x 8. Eight hundred minus eight is
792. A skilled mental calculator could compute 25 x 480 simply by using
the number relationship: 25 = 100/4. Instead of calculating with paper
and pencil, the problem computes mentally as 100 x 480 = 48000/4 =
12000. There are other types of calculations, and with practice, children
can learn and develop their own techniques. Flexibility is key. Note in the
examples above that the focus is on the relationships between the
numbers, described previously as conceptual knowledge.

Research has shown that children who are quick to learn the basic
arithmetic facts create efficient mental strategies for obtaining answers.
For example, a child's thought process behind 8 + 7 might be: "I know 8
+ 8 is 16 so 8 + 7 must be one less, 15." A quick way to find the product
of 8 and 7 involves this type of thinking: "4 x 7 = 28; I have twice as
many groups of 7 so 8 x 7 is 28 + 28."

Number sense is an important component of quantitative thinking. Here

are the results from two examples from the Third National Assessment
(Lindquist, Carpenter, Silver, & Mathews, 1983). The first deals with a
decimal estimation problem given to 13-year-olds. Students were not
given enough time to calculate the answer with paper and pencil.

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ESTIMATE the answer to 3.04 x 5.3

Percentage choosing
1) 1.6 28%
*2) 16 21%
3) 160 18%
4) 1600 23%
5) I don't know 9%

Performance was dismal, indicating an obvious lack of number sense.

Students could not see that 3.04 is about 3, 5.3 is about 5, and their
product is about 15. The only reasonable answer was 16. It is important
to note that on a similar computation item when students were given
time to compute, 57% arrived at the correct answer. Procedural
knowledge does not add to students' number sense. Only conceptual
knowledge can.

The following open-ended word problem, part of the same assessment,

was given to 13-year-olds. Students could use a calculator.

An army bus holds 36 soldiers. If 1,128 soldiers are being

bussed to their training site, how many buses are needed?

Percentage responding
*1) 32 7%
2) 31.33; 311/3 etc. 16%
3) 25%
4) wrong operation 20%
5) no answer 32%

Again, performance revealed a lack of number sense and also perhaps a

lack of common sense. A calculator in the hands of students without
number sense is no help. Most students could not determine what
operation to choose. Forty-one percent of those who were able to choose
the correct operation did not know how to use the results with respect to
the constraints posed by the problem.

Estimation is a critical part of quantitative thinking. It permeates our daily

lives. If one listed the types of computation done in the course of an
average day, the times when an estimate is sufficient will greatly exceed
the number of times when an exact answer is required. This is true in all
subject areas and in and out of school. When an exact answer is needed,
a calculator is used for its speed and accuracy, not a paper and pencil
calculation. Research has shown that good estimators have several
common characteristics (Reys, Bestgen, Rybolt, & Wyatt, 1982). They are

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able to quickly produce "ballpark" estimates in solving a problem. They

rely on mental computations, not recording devices. They have a
tolerance for error and are comfortable with estimates. They have
developed strategies for estimating not normally taught in school and
their use of a particular strategy depends on the numbers in the problem.
(In other words, they are flexible.) Other common characteristics include:
quick and accurate fact recall; understanding of place value; skill with
multiples of 10; insisting on compensating their original estimate.

Here are examples of processes used by expert estimators (Reys et al.,


(347 x 6)/43-"I look for nice numbers or multiples to round to

347 to 350, 43 to 42. I cancel 6 and 42 which gives 350/7 or
50." or

"347/43 is about 9; so 9 x 6 is 54, but it must be less because

347/43 is below 9. So I'll take off some. That leaves… I'll say

The 1979 Super Bowl netted $21,319,908 to be equally divided

among 26 NFL teams. About how much does each team get? -
"I rounded to 26 million divided by 26 which is 1 million each, It
has to be less because of my rounding procedure, say 850,000

An important part of quantitative thinking is the ability of the student to

reason about number relationships without numbers. For example, in the
last example the student understood that by increasing the dividend in a
division problem (keeping the divisor constant), the size of the answer
increases (given a/b = c; if a is increased, then c increases). Other
examples of this type of knowledge are:

Adding two positive numbers yields a quantity larger than either added.
(1/2 + 1/3 cannot equal 2/5 because 2/5 is less than 1/2, one of my
original addends.) Dividing by a whole number yields a quantity less than
the dividend, but division by an amount less than 1 yields a larger

Given a fraction or ratio, a/b, if a is increased, the size of the fraction

increases; if b is increased the size of the fraction decreases; if both are
increased, change in the fraction value cannot be determined.


Computers and calculators influence mathematics instruction and

mathematics usage in two major ways. First, technology raises the
question, "How should the mathematics curriculum be changed given the
availability of calculators and computers?" Our answer to this question

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has already been addressed. The curriculum should de-emphasize speed

and accuracy in paper and pencil algorithms and emphasize development
of a wider range of mathematics competencies such as those listed in the
NCSM report (NCSM, 1988). Since the elementary program emphasizes
the development of computational proficiency, the use of calculators
should have a greater impact on change in the elementary schools than in
the secondary schools. (In fact, calculators are accepted more by
secondary teachers than elementary teachers, probably because they
have less effect on what they teach.) It follows that calculators should be
used in other disciplines as well.

The rapidly expanded power of computers raise analogous questions

about the algorithmic aspect found in the secondary curriculum (Fey,
1984). Computer software programs are currently available to do much of
the symbolic manipulation which continues to constitute a major portion
of the mathematical time in classes from algebra to first-year calculus.
MuMath, TK!Solver, and the Geometric Supposer are three software
programs that have an interactive rather than a tutorial format (Sunburst,
1987). At the time of this writing it is possible to purchase a calculator for
about $60 that will graph all of the types of equations encountered in
secondary school. Likewise, a geometry proof checker will evaluate the
adequacy of a student's logic when doing two-column geometric proofs.
How can these advances fail to have an impact on the curricula?

The second question raised by this technology is, "How should the way
mathematics is taught be changed, given the availability of calculators
and computers?" The NCTM recommends that mathematics programs
take full advantage of the power of calculators and computers at all grade
levels (NCTM, 1980). Using calculators in problem-solving situations
allows all students to participate in vastly expanded types of activities.
Lack of computational ability need not separate students into those who
work on low level skills and those who have the opportunity to work on
higher level activities. Tedious calculations need not limit the type of
problems students are given. Applied problems with real data need not be
avoided since the calculator can do the messy work. Using calculators in
problem-solving situations is not limited to the mathematics classroom.
Data collected in science experiments, and making predictions or
understanding trends in the social sciences can all be processed with

Calculators are not just for number crunching; calculators also can be
used to develop new mathematics concepts and to reinforce previously
learned concepts. Below are three activities which use a calculator to
reinforce and extend a basic concept. The first deals with place value, the
second productivity, and the third relates to conservation of natural

1. Enter 6,425 on your calculator using only the numbers 1000, 100,
10, 1 and + , = keys.

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2. A social studies class might want to explore the impact on

productivity (productivity = output/input) when the output increases
and the input remains stable or vice versa; or even more interesting,
when both increase or both decrease. Students can quickly generate
large numbers of examples. These can form the basis important

3. A social studies class dealing with the conservation of natural

resources might choose to determine the number or amount of
paper products used by the school or community in one year. While
data collected would be too tedious to work with by hand, calculators
would allow processing to take place with greater ease. Discussion
could then focus on ways to conserve and extend these resources
rather than on the more mundane calculations.

Computers can deliver instruction in a variety of ways. These include drill

and practice for skill learning, simulations for problem solving, and
student programming (Shumway, 1988). Teachers should avoid using
computers or calculators to train children to do tasks better done by the
computer or calculator in the first place. Computers should be used for
doing what they do uniquely well and not for duplicating what can be
done just as well in other ways. For example, using a drill and practice
computer program to practice multiplication problems is inappropriate.
First, a worksheet would do just as well; second, increasing speed and
accuracy in that skill is a questionable goal. Similarly, calculators should
not be used to check the answer to a long division problem solved with
paper and pencil. The student should do the problem on the calculator

Computers do have a place in the school curriculum. Drill and practice of

basic facts and reinforcement of other mental arithmetic skills continue to
be appropriate in the mathematics classroom and can be handled with
the use of existing software. Other drill and practice programs are
appropriate for spelling, typing, and certain areas where rote
memorization is necessary and appropriate, such as learning states,
capitals, or presidents. Software manufacturers are beginning to produce
materials which emphasize conceptual rather than procedural domains.
This is a welcome addition. As more of these higher quality programs find
their way into the school curricula, computers will become increasingly

Software programs have been created that present problems and monitor
student performance. These allow both teacher and students to keep
track of progress. Drill and practice programs do not teach new skills;
they simply provide opportunity for the practice of learned skills.

Experiences that are too time-consuming or inconvenient to conduct can

be simulated by a computer. Teachers can write their own simulation
programs or use a wide range of commercial programs. For example, a
teacher, without too much difficulty, can write a program to simulate

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tossing a coin or die a large number of times, enabling students easily to

collect data for a lesson on probability and statistics. The computer
graphic capabilities provide a unique opportunity to explore problems in
geometry and algebra. The Geometric Supposer and Presupposer allow
students to explore informally many ideas in geometry. This can lead to
conjectured theorems that eventually will be formally proved. Other
software packages are available for learning strategies for solving
problems. How many diagonals in a 100-sided figure? A software program
helps students solve this problem by drawing 3-, 4-, 5-, 6-, or up to
10-sided figures and their corresponding diagonals one at a time.
Students use this program to collect data to build a table and look for
number patterns.

Simulations also are available in other subject domains. A social studies

teacher planning a unit on settling the West in the early and middle 19th
century might use the "Oregon Trail," software which counterbalances the
many decisions faced by the early pioneers and the consequences of
those decisions in terms of conserving limited resources, protecting
personal health and safety, and eliminating or limiting other costly errors
in judgment or data-based decision making.

Programming can be an effective use of the computer in the elementary

and secondary schools. Teachers can learn to program the computer to
help children explore a variety of mathematical ideas, such as counting,
multiples, and prime numbers (Shumway, 1987). Students also can learn
to do the programming. Two commonly used languages are LOGO and
BASIC. Advocates suggest that computer programming by students
teaches concept learning and problem solving.

Another use of computers is for instructional management. Software

packages are available to evaluate tests and to give teachers detailed
printouts of student achievement. Such information can also provide
longitudinally oriented feedback to students and teachers. This can be
useful in grouping for instruction.

Calculators and computers have not yet greatly influenced what

mathematics is taught or how it is delivered. However, mathematics
educators will continue to push for change in schools in these directions.


All is not well in the mathematics classrooms of the nation's schools.

Phrased more positively, there is ample room for improvement in the
nation's mathematics classrooms. The latter version, however, fails to
communicate the seriousness of the problem. International comparisons
of the U.S. and leading industrial nations consistently rank this country in
the lower half in nearly every major mathematical category. Major
differences in achievement patterns have caused much concern and have
stimulated a series of major reports (National Commission on Excellence,

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1983; Second International Study, IEA 1984; Stevenson et al., 1986). At

the time of this writing, talk continues, and though followed by relatively
little action, the horizon looks brighter.

During the past two decades enormous changes have occurred in the
scope and depth of the research in mathematics education. New
organizations, steady (although insufficient) federal funding, and the
evolution of the concept of cooperative research has appreciably
improved the extent to which we understand how students learn
mathematical and quantitative ideas. Large-scale and long-term projects
have emerged dealing with how children learn early number concepts,
geometry, and rational number concepts (fraction, ratio, decimal); how
children develop concepts of multiplication and division and learn
estimation strategies and processes; the influence of sex-related variables
on mathematics performance; the impact of calculators and computers;
and other aspects of thinking and concept development. There is still
much that is not fully understood, but real progress has been made.
Schools have not kept abreast of such progress. In fact, mathematics
curricula and methods have not changed very much at all in the last 20
years. Paper and pencil calculations and text-related worksheets still
dominate in the mathematics classroom.

However, new attempts at upgrading are underway. More money is

available for research and the federal government is once again becoming
involved in large-scale curriculum development. This is true for science as
well as for mathematics. As these changes slowly infiltrate school
curricula, new and higher achievement levels ideally will become
commonplace among our students. Ideas similar to those expressed here
will provide a conceptual framework for those efforts.

Clearly the development of quantitative thinking is an important goal, not

only for the mathematics teacher and classroom but for all teachers of all
school subjects. An understanding of the world in which we live cannot
progress very far unless quantitative issues are addressed. How many?
How far? How much? How has it changed? Can you predict? What would
happen if? These are questions which are found in all subject domains.
The answers to these and numerous other inquiries require serious
consideration of the quantitative aspects of the phenomena.

1 The draft version of this chapter was reviewed by : Gary Griffin,

University of Illinois-Chicago; Perry Lanier, Michigan State University; and
Dick Lesh, WYCAT Systems. Each made valuable suggestions, but the
final version is totally the product and responsibility of the authors.
AACTE expresses appreciation to all the individuals who contributed to
this chapter.


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Annotated Bibliography

Charles, R., & Lester, F. (1982). Teaching problem solving: What, why and
how. Palo Alto, CA: Dale Seymour Publications. This very readable booklet
addresses issues associated with mathematical problem solving,
specifica1ly, why problem solving is important and how to integrate
problem solving into the mathematics program. Ideas come directly from
experiences with teachers and children at several grade levels.

Hiebert, J. (Ed.). (1986). Conceptual and procedural knowledge: The case

of mathematics. Hi1lsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. This reference for researchers
contains 10 chapters dealing with current thinking on this very important
topic. The authors represent a cross-section of influential mathematics
evaluators who discuss the basic procedural/conceptual issue from a
number of perspectives and from the vantage point of a number of
mathematical topics.

Janvier, C. (Ed.). (1987). Problems of representation in the teaching and

learning of mathematics. Hi1lsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. This reference for
researchers is part of a series of edited publications designed to update
the research community on developments in important areas relating to
mathematics education and in areas where important research has been
and is being conducted, including studies in representation.

Lesh, R., & Landau, M. (Eds.). (1983). Acquisition of mathematics

concepts and processes. New York: Academic Press. This edited book
presents some of the more promising and productive research in
mathematics learning and problem solving.

Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas.

New York: Basic Books. This book presents the author's vision of
computers in education. He describes how education can be changed by
incorporating his computer language LOGO into the curriculum. Papert's
view of the future has created important debates on the nature and
importance of mathematics in school curricula.

Post, T. R. (Ed.). (1988). Teaching mathematics in grades K-8:

Research-based methods. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. Each chapter in
this mathematics methods book is written by nationally or internationally
recognized leaders in the field discussed. Ideas and activities presented
are based on the most current research developments. Topics include the
nature of mathematics learning; problem solving; measurement;
operations with whole numbers; rational numbers; geometry; estimation;
ratio and proportion; calculators and computers; gender issues; and

Reys, R., Suydam, M., & Lindquist, M. (1984). Helping children learn
mathematics. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. A methods book for
teachers of elementary school mathematics. The first section provides
information on the changing mathematics curriculum and how children
learn mathematics. The second section discusses strategies and teaching

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activities related to early number concepts, place value, whole number

operations, measurement, fractions, decimals, ratio, proportion and
percent, estimation, and geometry.

Schoen, H. (Ed.). (1986). Estimation and mental computation: 1986

yearbook. Reston, V A: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Each
year the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics publishes a
yearbook addressing a timely topic related to the contemporary
mathematics curriculum. The topic in 1986 was estimation. Articles
provide specific classroom activities on such topics as computational
estimation, estimation in measurement, estimating fractions, estimating
decimal products, and using money to develop estimation skills with


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