There is an underlying problem with the way maths is taught in primary school; the curriculum assumes that very young children can picture numbers as controlled mental images. This is a presupposition of the whole system. For even the most basic mental arithmetic mental images are essential; students need to be able to picture numbers, in any of their formats, as mental images. There is no alternative, this is, after all, what ‘mental arithmetic’ means. People who are good at maths will tell you they can see numbers in their mind’s eye.
We should be checking every 4-5-year-old – it only takes seconds to check and minutes to teach the skill. Why don’t we tell every parent and teach it as a simple “how to” skill that everyone can use? It can’t do any harm.
These are some of the Symptoms of not having good mental images of numbers:
- Difficulty remembering how numbers are written.
- Numbers reversed or rotated.
- Problems with estimating and counting.
- Poor memory for simple maths facts, like the area of a circle.
- Difficulties understanding mathematical symbols.
- Fast moving mental images can also encourage numbers and symbols to rotate, e.g. 6 turns into 9 and + into x.
- Problems counting backwards
- Problems remembering shapes.
- Confusion with similar looking numbers and directions, e.g. 92 or 29.
- Takes a long time to complete mathematical tables.
- There can be a lot of words in maths that will trouble poor readers.
- A hundred squares and multiplication tables can put neurodivergent students into sensory overload.
- Some students who use mental imagery are so fast they just know the answer and really struggle to show the workings out.
- Algebra can be meaningless, e.g. 2x+3y.
- Why teach students to use number triangles and don’t check they can visualise them.
Neurodivergent students are thinking differently, predominantly in pictures and may never think of visualising numbers!
For those who want to know “why”numbers are the shapes they are, teach them the origin of numbers:
To learn more go to www.empoweringlearning.co.uk, sign up for 2 chapters of my new book Misunderstood Greatness or buy a copy of Bridges to Success: Why bridht hids are being left behind and what you can do to change this.