Math in Lower Division

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics places a strong emphasis on the development of number sense in the elementary years. Long before kindergarten, children are able to see small quantities, add small amounts, and demonstrate basic counting skills. Parents play a role in fostering this development through games and day-to-day activities. Young children engage in number sense opportunities, including counting crackers for a snack, identifying the larger quantity of a favorite food, and adding two groups of toys together to find the total.  

In the school setting, students are soon introduced to number sense concepts such as working with place value, composing and decomposing numbers, and the four operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division).  

In Room 1208, teacher Angela Bell knows well that number sense is a foundational skill on which higher level math is built. In this photo, students play a Guess the Number game: as one student is given a mystery number and must guess the number based on clues provided by peers. Once student Tommy Jones determined which numbers were greater than or less than the mystery number and whether the number was even or odd, he used these place value concepts to make an educated guess. Judging by his enthusiasm, he used his number sense to get it right!  

As students move through the grades, number sense manifests through increasing abilities to manipulate numbers. Adding commutative, distributive, and associative properties to student understanding assists with basic fact recall, adding columns of numbers, and applying the multiplication and division algorithms. By the end of fifth grade, fractions, decimals, and percents have been introduced, building on the basics of the early years.  

However, no discussion of number sense is complete without the mention of estimation.  As number sense develops, children can estimate an answer to a given problem by using place value concepts and their understanding of operations.  For example, knowing that 10 x 14 is greater than 100 or that 6 quarters is more than a dollar indicates that a student is developing the ability to reason and talk about numbers. This ability to judge the reasonableness of their results is a milestone. When your child can tell you that 3/8 is smaller than 3/4 because fourths are bigger than eighths, you can take comfort in knowing that your child’s number sense is moving forward.  


Miriam Skapik
Head of Lower Division