Maths without understanding

23rd June 2006 at 01:00
As one of the editorial team of Equals: Realising potential in mathematics for all who did refer to a return to "the dark ages" ("Return to 'dark ages' of mechanical sums", TES, May 26), I would still argue with Anita Straker's plea for all elements in the new primary framework ("Stop being so negative over maths reforms", TES, June 9) .

Yes, methods of calculation have always been there but the extra stress on them is alarming.

It was as far back as 1979 that Stuart Plunkett wrote: "For a lot of non-specialist teachers of mathematics (the vast majority of primary school teachers), as for the general public, the four rules of number are the standard written algorithms. Concept and algorithm are equated. So, to teach division you teach a method rather than an idea."

It is still the ideas that matter. Also around that time Michael Girling, HMI, defined numeracy as "the ability to use a four-function calculator sensibly". This surely is the simplest, most straightforward method for any calculation. It is the method I use, and I guess Anita does too, and we both use it sensibly because we both have a sound understanding of the underlying concepts.

Like Michael Girling I would say:"The most refined methods of long division, for instance, need not be taught." And like Stuart Plunkett, I would ask, "Why teach any refined methods?"

Rachel Gibbons

3 Britannia Road

London SW6

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