Monthly Archives: September 2017

Digging Deeper into … Addition and Subtraction (3rd to 6th class)

For practical suggestions for families, and links to useful digital resources, to support children learning about the topic of addition and subtraction, please check out the following post: Dear Family, your Operation Maths Guide to Addition and Subtraction

Addition and Subtraction is always the first operation’s chapter in Operation Maths 3-6, and it is always a double chapter i.e. it is structured to be covered over 10 days/two school weeks. In Operation Maths 3-5 there is also a second Addition and Subtraction chapter (this time only a single i.e. one week chapter) in the second half of the school year to revise and re-focus on specific strategies that can be used.

Relationship between addition and subtraction

In contrast to traditional maths schemes, which often have separate chapters for each operation, Operation Maths instead teaches addition and subtraction together, as related concepts. Teaching the operations in this way will encourage the children to begin to recognise the relationships between addition and subtraction, and indeed all the operations. Thus, the initial activities in the Discovery Book, require the children to reflect on their understanding of the concepts and to compare and contrast them.

In particular, the children are enabled to understand addition and subtraction as being the inverse of each other and are encouraged to use the inverse operation to check calculations.


Looking at the bigger picture

Children can often have tunnel vision (or column vision) regarding addition and subtraction calculations: they “do” the units, then the tens, then the hundreds without really looking at the whole numbers or the processes involved.

One way in which you can encourage the children to look at and understand these operations better is by using a Concrete–pictorial–abstract (CPA) approach. This means the children will be moving from experiences with the familiar base ten concrete materials (e.g. straws, base ten blocks, money, the Operation Maths place value discs, pictured above) to pictorial activities (e.g. where the children draw representations of the numbers using pictures of the concrete materials or use empty number lines, bar models, etc.) and finally to abstract exercises, where the focus is primarily on numbers and/or digits.

When exchanging tens and units or tens and hundreds, reinforce that a ten is also the same as 10 units, and that a hundred is the same as 10 tens and 100 units.
The use of non-canonical arrangements of numbers (e.g. representing 245 as 2H 3T 15U or 1H 14T 5U), as mentioned in Place Value, can also be very useful to children as they develop their ability to visualise the regrouping/renaming process. The Operation Maths Place Value eManipulative, accessible on,  is an excellent way to illustrate this and explore the operations in a visual way. Worth noting also, is that the Operation Maths Place Value eManipulative and place value discs provide the only means to concretely or pictorially represent base ten materials to five whole number places (no other interactive tool is available on the internet to do this); a fact which will be of particular value to teachers of 5th and 6th classes who didn’t have a way to concretely/visually represent numbers to ten thousands prior to the inception of Operation Maths.


Mental strategies are as important as written methods

The traditional, written algorithms for addition and subtraction, i.e. the column methods, are important aspects of these operations. However, in real-life maths, mental calculations are often more relevant than written methods. Also, as mentioned previously, children can often have tunnel vision (or column vision) regarding addition and subtraction calculations; they ‘do’ the units, then the tens, then the hundreds, etc., without really looking at the entire numbers or the processes involved. Therefore, while the column method for addition and subtraction is a main part of this topic, equally important is the development of mental calculation skills, using such strategies as those outlined on this page from Operation Maths 6 (below)

Thus, one of the main purposes of the Addition and Subtraction chapters in Operation Maths is to extend the range of mental calculation strategies the children have and to enable them to apply the strategies to numbers of greater complexity i.e. for the children to become efficient and flexible, as well as accurate. As the same calculation can often be done mentally in many different ways, the children have to develop their decision-making skills so as to be in a position to decide what is the most efficient strategy to use in each situation.

It is worth noting that the page from Operation Maths 6 pictured above serves as a synopsis to remind the children of all the strategies they explored individually in the previous Operation Maths books. That said, if the sixth class children are new to Operation Maths and have never encountered these strategies before, they may need to progress at a much slower pace than those who have been using the programme previously, or who may have encountered these strategies, for example a class who used Number Talks. As mentioned in a previous post, the Operation Maths mental strategies listed below are very similar to, and in some cases identical to, those used in Number Talks (if different terminology from Operation Maths is used in Number Talks, the Number Talks terminology is given in brackets).

  • Doubles and near doubles
  • Number bonds of 10, 100 and 1,000 (Making tens)
  • Friendly or Compatible numbers (benchmark/friendly numbers)
  • Partitioning (breaking each number into its place value parts)
  • Compensation
  • Adding up in stages/sequencing (adding up in chunks)
  • Subtraction as take-away (removal/deducation)
  • Subtraction as difference (adding up/complementary addition)
  • Constant difference subtraction (see below)

Operation Maths also places particular emphasis on the development of estimation skills for number and introduces and develops specific estimation strategies as the books progress. Again, the emphasis is on the children contrasting and comparing these strategies and choosing the most efficient strategy each time. To find out more about some of the estimation strategies, read this post.

Therefore, ask the children, as often as possible when meeting new calculations, can they do it mentally, and how, so that they become increasingly aware of a range of mental calculation skills and approaches. In this way the children will also be developing their decision-making skills, so as to be in a position to decide the most efficient strategy/approach to use.


Problem-solving strategies

One of the main aims of Operation Maths 3-6 was to introduce both teachers and pupils to a logical problem solving approach (i.e. RUCSAC) , complemented by specific visual problem solving strategies which develop in complexity as the child progresses through the senior classes.

A key step in the RUCSAC problem-solving approach is the ability to read a word problem meaningfully, and highlight the specific operational language or vocabulary. This is reinforced with activities in the Discovery Book (see below) where the children colour-code the specific phrases and then transfer them to their Operations Vocabulary page towards the end of their Discovery Book for future reference.

You will notice that the problems have no numbers to distract the children, so that they can just focus on the language of the problems and the operations that may be inferred by the context of the story. These type of “numberless word problems” are being used more and more by practitioners in order to deepen children’s understanding of the concepts involved.

Another key step in the RUCSAC approach is the ability to create to show what you know, where the child makes a representation of the word problem in another form. Bar models are ideal for use with operational word problems. Introduced initially in Operation Maths 3, the use of bar models is developed through Operation Maths 3-6 to include bar models suited to other types of word problems.

Empty number lines can also be used to represent addition and subtraction problems (see below). In the senior books, the children will use both strategies to represent word problems and compare and contrast the two strategies. Ultimately, it is hoped that the children will use the strategy that they are most comfortable with. For more information on problem-solving strategies please consult the guide to problem-solving strategies across the scheme in the introduction to your Teachers Resource Book (TRB) or read on here.


Communicating and expressing thinking

Being able to explain your mathematical thinking is a very powerful tool, and one that can greatly aid the learning and understanding of both the speaker and the listener(s). Encourage the children to verbalise how they did their calculations (mental or written) to provide you with a window on their thinking. When talking about decimal numbers, encourage children to use fractional language as opposed to decimal language, i.e. ‘6 hundredths plus 4 hundredths is ten hundredths’ etc.

Another way to communicate and express thinking is via jottings. These are informal diagrams that both show and support thinking, and when used as a part-mental approach, serve as an intermediate stage between concrete materials and the abstract calculation. Their use should be encouraged as much as possible (e.g. “use jottings to show me your thinking”) until the child is confident enough to do the whole calculation mentally or using a traditional written form. The main jottings used in Operation Maths are empty number lines (pictured above) and branching (pictured below) to show part–whole relationships and/or explore compensation.


Further Reading and Resources:

  • Dear Family, your Operation Maths Guide to Addition & Subtraction includes practical suggestions for supporting children, and links to a huge suite of digital resources, organised according to class level.
  • Operation Maths Digital Resources: As always don’t forget to access the linked digital activities on the digital version of the Pupil’s book, available on Tip: look at the footer on the first page of each chapter in the pupil’s book to get a synopsis of what digital resources are available/suggested to use with that particular chapter.
  • Mental Maths handbook for Addition and Subtraction from the PDST
  • Number Talks book by Sherry Parrish
  • Addition & Subtraction Board on Pinterest
  • This short video from Graham Fletcher showing the progression of addition and subtraction from the infant classes to the formal written algorithm, with three and four-digit numbers, is also worthwhile viewing:

Digging Deeper into … 2D Shapes (3rd – 6th)

For practical suggestions for families, and helpful links to digital resources, to support children learning about the topic of 2-D shapes, please check out the following post: Dear Family, your Operation Maths Guide to 2-D Shapes

Overview of 2D-Shapes:

The following are the new 2D shapes, to which the children are formally introduced, in the senior end of primary school:

  • 3rd class: hexagon
  • 4th class:  Equilateral, isosceles and scalene triangles; rhombus & parallelogram; pentagon and octagon
  • 5th class: Polygons, quadrilaterals, trapezium
  • 6th class: Kite*

* while the kite is not specified on the Primary Mathematics Curriculum (1999) for sixth class, it has been included in Operation Maths 6 as it features on the curricula for 5th/6th grade in many other countries.

As with every topic in Operation Maths, a CPA approach is also recommended for 2D shapes:

Concrete: Using concrete geometric shapes for classifying and sorting; identifying examples of 2D shapes and tessellations in the environment.
Pictorial: Tracing around shape templates to make reproductions that can be manipulated, folded, partitioned and combined; using lollipop sticks, geostrips or geoboards to create representations of 2D shapes; using the Operation Maths Scratch lessons accessible on to draw various shapes.
Abstract: Answering shape questions with no visual references/supports; suggesting the number of lines of symmetry on a shape without folding or drawing to explore the same; identifying the resulting shape when a given shape is rotated, flipped etc.


Properties of 2D Shapes:

Don’t let the list above, of 2D shapes by class, fool you; it shouldn’t create an incorrect impression that the primary focus is on identifying shapes, or that we should look at one type of 2D shape exclusive of others. Rather, the focus should be on the children examining the properties of each 2-D shape, describing it according to these properties and contrasting it with, and comparing it to, the properties of other shapes, rather than on just naming the shape. For example, what makes a square a square? How is a square similar to, or different from, a rectangle? Could an argument be made to say a square is also a rectangle? Could an argument be made to say a rectangle is also a square?

Therefore, any new 2D shapes that the children encounter should be compared to the 2D shapes with which they are already familiar. And, as the 2D shapes chapter in Operation Maths always follows on from the topic of Lines and Angles, when exploring properties, reference should also be made to the number and type of angles within the shape, the number and types of sides (parallel, perpendicular etc) and whether the shape is regular or irregular.

Common misconceptions:

Categorising 2D shapes  separately: As mentioned previously, children often don’t recognise a square as a type of rectangle, a rectangle as a type of parallelogram, a rhombus as a type of parallelogram etc. This can often be the case if the children are focused primarily on naming the shape and then compartmentalising it in a category, as opposed to examining its properties and exploring how it may have proprieties in common with other shapes.

It can be useful here to display 2D shapes to the class using a subgroup structure (like this one here) so that the children can appreciate how, for example, a square is also a rectangle, is also a parallelogram, is also a quadrilateral, is also a polygon.

Constancy of shapes: Many children don’t recognise that a  shape remains constant, irrespective of its placement in space. In particular, a square sitting on its vertex is often incorrectly labelled as a diamond. The children should be encouraged to draw or trace around shapes on their MWBs and then rotate the shape in order to appreciate its constancy.

Regularity: Children may not recognise a five-sided figure with sides of same length as being a regular shape. It is as if the terminology “regular” implies to them that the shape should be common-place i.e. regularly occurring. For this same reason, a child will often say a rectangle and a circle are regular shapes, given their familiarity with these shapes from the junior classes, even though they are officially classified as irregular shapes. Challenging this misconception will require plenty of sorting activities where shapes are classified as regular or irregular (see Ready to Go activities below).

When creating a class display of shapes eg rectangles, triangles, etc., instead of using just one qualifying shape to illustrate the term, use many and use varied ones. Enlist the help of the class: “I want to make a display of triangles/parallelograms but I want the triangles/parallelograms to all be different. Can you draw and cut some out for me?” Such an activity would quickly reveal those who appreciate the required properties for each shape and those who don’t. Remember to also position the shapes in various ways so as to reinforce that the shape remains constant, irrespective of placement.

Identifying 3D objects as 2D shapes: This is a very problematic area. It often happens that when asked to find a circle in the environment, a child suggests a ball (a sphere) or a cube might be suggested as a square. When asking to identify 2D shapes in the classroom or at home, we must be careful how we respond to the answers so as not to reinforce these misconceptions. For example, if a child suggests that the door is a rectangle, when it is in fact a cuboid, emphasise that a part of the door is rectangular eg

  • Which part of the door is like a rectangle?
  • Are there any other parts of the door that are like a rectangle?
  • Can you see any other rectangles on the outside of the door? How many?
  • Are they all the same or different?

Asking the children to draw around solid 3D objects in order to produce flat 2D shapes can also be useful here.

Coordinates (6th class)

The concept of plotting and reading coordinates is introduced in 6th Class. There are plenty of examples of coordinates in the children’s environment, e.g. map reading, car parks and board games such as chess and Battleship. Allow the children to practise reading coordinates on maps and on board games, then progress to using two digit coordinates in maths. Make sure they first read the horizontal coordinate and then the vertical coordinate.

Operation Maths Digital Resources:

Don’t forget to access the linked digital activities on the digital version of the Pupil’s book, available on . These include:

Ready to go Activities: based on the Sorting eManipulative, these enable the various shapes to be sorted according to class-appropriate criteria, or enable tessellating patterns to be made. The Ready to go activities all have suggested questions inbuilt on the left-hand side of the screen that the teacher can just click to reveal and hide. Remember, when sorting, the focus should be on the properties of the shapes not their names; that said, you can also ask the children to identify the shapes, if known, as an extra dimension to the activity.

Create activities: (all classes) again using the Sorting eManipulative, these are less structured that their Ready to go counterparts. Instead, the teacher should click on the yellow “Create new example” button on the bottom of the screen, and then use the sorting eManipulative to explore the shapes as they see fit. The teacher can use a previous Ready to go activity to inspire the create activity or come up with a completely different activity of their own using the almost limitless possibilities of the sorting eManipulative.

Write-Hide-Show videos: These explore tessellations (3rd class) and different types of triangles (5th class). They encourage the children to look and respond to the questions by answering orally or on their MWBs.

Maths Around Us video (6th class): which examines different types of triangles from the environment.

Scratch-based programming lessons with instructions on how to draw 2D shapes  (3rd class) and hexagons (3rd, 4th, 5th classes), scalene triangle, pentagon and octagon (4th class), different types of triangles (5th class) and plot 2D shapes on a grid (6th class).


Further Reading and Resources

Digging Deeper into … Representing and Interpreting Data (3rd-6th)

Category : Uncategorized

For practical suggestions for families, and links to useful digital resources, to support children learning about the topic of data, please check out the following post: Dear Family, your Operation Maths Guide to Data

Data Analysis Process

Data analysis, whether at lower primary, upper primary, or even at a more specialised level of statistics, is essentially the same process:

  • It starts with a question, that doesn’t have an obvious and/or immediate answer. Information is then collected relevant to the question.
  • This collected information or data is represented in a structured way that makes it easier to read.
  • This represented data is then examined and compared (interpreted) in such a way as to be able to make statements about what it reveals and, in turn, to possibly answer the initial question (if the question remains unanswered, it may be necessary to re-start the process again, perhaps using different methods).

Thus, every data activity should start with a question, for example:

  • What is the most common eye/hair colour in our class?
  • Which fruit/pet do we prefer?
  • How did we come to school today?
  • What candidate would we vote for?
  • What is the temperature each day?
  • How many children are absent from school every day?

When choosing a question it is worth appreciating that some questions might not lend themselves to rich answers. Take, for example, the first question above; once the data is collected, and represented, there is not that much scope for interpretation of results other than identifying the most common eye/hair colour and comparing the number of children with one colour as being more/less than another colour. However, other questions might lead to richer answers, with more possibilities to collect further information, to make predictions and to create connections with learning in other areas. Take, for example, the question above about travel; the children could be asked to suggest reasons for the results e.g. can they suggest why they think most children walked/came by car on the day in question, whether weather/season/distance from school was a factor and to suggest how the results might be different on another day/time of year. Thus, the children are beginning to appreciate that data analysis has a purpose i.e. to collect, represent and interpret information, so as to answer a question. And, in the case of the questions about temperature and number of absences, the children may begin to appreciate that it is too much to give the specific details for each individual day and that a figure to represent a larger set of numbers (eg the average) is preferable in some situations.

Content overview

A quick glance at the curriculum content for representing and interpreting data for these classes, reveals the following:
3rd class: pictograms, block graphs, bar charts
4th class: pictograms, block graphs, bar charts and bar-line graphs incorporating the scales 1:2, 1:5, 1:10, and 1:100
5th class: pictograms, single and multiple bar charts and simple pie charts; calculating averages
6th class: pie charts and trend graphs; calculating averages

In Operation Maths for 3rd and 4th classes, representing and interpreting data is specifically taught in September, at the beginning of the school year, so that the children are enabled to incorporate these skills into other subject areas where possible e.g. reading and interpreting tables and graphs, collecting and displaying data in science, geography etc.

In 5th and 6th classes, representing and interpreting data is taught later in the school year, after the children have encountered degrees in lines and angles and the circle in 2D shapes, as this content is necessary prerequisite knowledge for creating pie charts. In these classes, representing and interpreting data is also taught as a double chapter (two week block), to allow for the extra time required to explore averages.


As with every topic in Operation Maths, a CPA approach is also recommended for representing and interpreting data:

Concrete: Using real objects to sort and classify eg the number of different colour crayons in a box, the different type of PE equipment in the hall etc; using unifix cubes, blocks, cuisinere rods etc to represent data; using cubes to introduce and explore the calculation of averages.
Pictorial: using multiple copies of identical images to make pictograms; using identical cut out squares/rectangles to make block graphs etc, using folded circles to make pie charts, using bar models to calculate averages.
Abstract: the final stage, where the focus is primarily on numbers and/or digits eg reading and interpreting the scale on a graph where all the scale intervals are not given; calculating averages without pictorial or concrete supports.

Interpreting data

For children to become comfortable interpreting tables and graphs it is vital that they have plenty of opportunities to look at and read a variety of tables and graphs. This shouldn’t be limited to just the tables and graphs in their maths books. In particular, data sets that are relevant to them, such as soccer league tables can be a great way to encourage the children to appreciate how relevant this strand units is to them.

Utilize every opportunity to expose them to real-life examples of data from print and digital media and use purposeful questions to highlight the features of the graph:

  • What is the title of this graph/chart?
  • How is the information displayed? Horizontally or vertically?
  • What type of chart/graph was used?
  • Why do you think this graph type was chosen? What other types would have been suitable?
  • What key information is required to interpret the data (eg scale intervals, labels on the axes, a key for piecharts)?
  • Is there information missing that would have been useful to get a better insight into the data?

The children can be asked to create questions based on the graph/chart and swap with a partner to answer. When they become adept at producing charts themselves (see next section) they can also be asked to represent the data using a different chart type.

One of the most common mistakes that children make when interpreting graphs is misreading the scale. Always draw children’s attention to this first, and ask them to identify the scale interval and what it means for the bars/blocks/points etc on the graph. The graph quiz on That Quiz provides lots of extra practice for this skill. The quizzes are also very customisable, with options to show pictograms, bar charts, trend graphs (line) and pie charts (circle), easier or normal content, and a variety of question types. Another similar activity is this one from MathsFrame which offers three different levels of questions on bar charts.

A very interesting  and very different way to explore interpreting data is to show the children graphs where much of the key information is missing initially, but is then slowly revealed as the children share their thoughts and ideas. Following on from Brian Bushart’s work on numberless word problems, many teachers have used graphs to create “slow reveal” activities or “notice and wonder graphs”, and have very generously shared these online for other teachers to use. Some of these include:


Representing data

As mentioned previously, where suitable children should begin to represent data themselves using concrete materials. They can build block graphs using cubes or blocks, laid flat on a piece of paper or their Operation Maths MWBs. These should all start from the same baseline and the children should also write in labels for the axes and a title.

As a development, they can then trace around the stacks of cubes and remove the cubes to have a pictorial representation of the concrete. Using cubes like this to represent 1:1 quantities can in turn lead children to see a need for one cube to represent more than one, ie scales of 1:10, 1:5 etc, especially if there are not enough cubes to represent the data or there is not enough space.

The next step could be to have small squares or rectangles of identical pieces of paper which can then be pasted onto a page to display the information. This can work particularly well for pie charts; cut out a circle of paper and divide it by folding into eighths; the circle can be left whole and the folds outlined in pencil/marker or the eighths can be cut up. A groups of eight children can then use either of these to show data like their favourite ice-cream flavour or TV programme. In this case, because the amount of data gathered is limited, the choices/categories should be limited, also, to three or four.


If the children are also collecting the data to make a graph or chart, they will need to come up with a system to accurately collect and record this data. This will usually involve compiling a type of table with three columns; the first column to list the categories, the second to record tally marks and the third to total the tally marks. When introducing tally systems the children could use lollipop sticks to explore and make tally marks.

For children, drawing their own graphs can present many difficulties. Some common mistakes that can be made include:

  • Incorrectly transferring the data from the table to the graph.
  • Omitting the graph title and/or category titles on the axes.
  • Using an inappropriate scale for a specific graph.
  • Not setting the scale at regular, even intervals
  • Zero being incorrectly located somewhere other than at the base line/axis.

And in other cases, it can just be a lack of neatness and exactness that reduces the quality, and readability, of a hand-draw graph. To overcome the difficulties associated with hand-draw graphs, the children could use either an online or offline computer application, all of which can produce very impressive results. Listed below are a small sample of those available; click on any of the links to access a tutorial or the application itself.


Calculating averages

Averages are introduced for the first time in 5th class and the children should have ample opportunities to explore this concept concretely and pictorially, before being given the formula to calculate the average of a set of numbers. Initially, the concept should be introduced as sharing amounts out to be fair/balanced:

Through plenty of concrete and pictorial opportunities to balance these separate quantities, it is hoped that the children begin to see a connection between the total number of items and the balanced quantity or average:

Bar models, one of the key problem-solving strategies used in Operation Maths, are very useful here, where comparison models can be used to compare the total of the averaged quantities with the total of the individual quantities. They are also used in Operation Maths 6 to calculate the extra number(s) when the average increases or decreases, a concept which can be very difficult to reason if no pictorial structures are used to help visualise the relationships.

You can also check out this video to see how bar models can be used to solve averages:

Further Reading and Resources