Approaches and methodologies

Mathematical language

When children use mathematical language it is important that they use it accurately. Understanding mathematical language leads to the correct interpretation of mathematical symbols and accurate reading of algorithms or word problems. This helps the child to choose the correct operation for the task. Discussing and interpreting symbols in the environment is a good starting-point for introducing mathematical symbols as well as being a learning exercise in itself. Signs often have words on them, while symbols are usually pictorial representations of a statement, for example the no smoking sign, road signs, poison and cleaning instructions on clothes. These are internationally recognised symbols and indicate to the child that these symbols carry a meaning with them, as do mathematical symbols.

It is helpful when teaching to have a common approach to the terms used and the proper use of symbol names. Introducing mathematical symbols and numerals is the last step in the learning process. In teaching place value it is better to use units than ones, as it can be confusing for the child to describe 21 as ‘two tens and one one’. Work on place value could include collecting the house numbers of the children in the class and classifying them as being numbers with one digit, two digits or three digits.

It is a particularly good idea when teaching and assessing the child’s concept of place value to present the algorithm horizontally. The pupil then has to find the value of each digit before writing the algorithm vertically. It is important that children read algorithms from left to right. This is similar to left/right orientation exercises in reading and writing.

When children see 259 - 156 they should be encouraged to ‘read’ it as 259 minus, subtract or take away 156. This makes it clear to the child that the smaller number is the subtrahend. Children often misinterpret division statements, for example 410 รท 7 could be read by the child as 410 into 7. It should be read as 410 divided by or shared between 7.