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Making mathematics real

Published: Jun 3, 2014 3 min read

Rachel Jackson

Primary Specialist

National STEM Learning Centre

I remember a very energetic mathematics advisor jumping across an imaginary place value chart, demonstrating a physical way to help children learn about place value and multiplying and dividing by 10 and 100. Physically moving around is a great way to learn and adds to the multi-sensory approach used to encompass the variety of learning styles within a class. As teachers, we are always trying to increase the number of approaches we use and then evaluative their effectiveness.

I recently read an article which discussed the role of abstract gesture as a technique for learning mathematics. For example when calculating:

"3 + 2 + 6 = _ + 6" children made a V-point with their hands beneath the numbers to be added, then pointed at the missing number space. This helped them to gain a deeper understanding of the process and was found to be a more effective teaching tool than using objects to carry out the calculation. When children were tested on similar problems, those who had used gesture during the lesson were found to be better at solving problems in which they were required to generalise. Whilst teachers often use objects to represent what is happening in a calculation, this study suggests that gesture may also be beneficial for learning abstract concepts like mathematics.

The study brought to mind a video I watched in which children use visualisation and paper cups to play out a mathematics story before relating it to calculation. The actions they perform help them understand the calculation process.

Finding out new ways of teaching, or reinvigorating a teaching style, always gives me a boost of energy. The Primary Mathematics Conference takes place on June 14 at the National STEM Centre in which teachers can explore effective teaching and learning styles to help deliver the new curriculum. It includes workshops which look to provide practical strategies to develop pupils’ understanding and the ability to apply this to successful calculation, the use of the “Bar Model” to solve problems involving fractions and ratio, Developing Algebraic Thinking in the primary phase and Linking Science and Mathematics. With Debbie Morgan of the NCETM delivering a Keynote Speech, and a range of workshops to choose from, there is something for teachers at all stages in their careers to help support implementation of the new curriculum.

Please visit the Primary Resources Group where I have put together a list of resources and links related to this article. It is also a great place to share ideas and techniques you’ve found successful in the teaching of mathematics.