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

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 edcolearning.ie,  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 edcolearning.ie. 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:

Are you compensating?!

A key recurrent theme in Operation Maths is the teaching of specific strategies to promote the development of flexible and fluent mathematical learners. In a similar way to the Building Bridges approach to reading, which advocates explicitly teaching specific reading comprehension skills, Operation Maths explicitly explores a range of specific strategies in a spiral and progressive way, in order to equip the children with the necessary skills for them to become capable and confident at problem-solving and computing mentally. Particular to mental computation, Operation Maths introduces the children to a range of of mental calculation skills, one of which is compensation.




Compensation is primarily an addition strategy where the aim is to to adjust one addend to become an easier number to add with.  This involves moving the quantity required to do this  from one addend to the other. In Operation Maths, these easier numbers are usually referred to as  friendly or compatible numbers and can include doubles, multiples of ten (10, 20, 30…) or, in the older classes, multiples of the powers of ten (100, 200, 300…..; 4,000,  5,000,  6,000 etc).



As with all new concepts and strategies, Operation Maths advocates a CPA approach. An ideal introduction to compensation is with the Operation Maths frames in first class when the children first begin to notice how adding onto 9 can be made easier by moving a counter from the other quantity to the 9 to make it become a ten. When ready, the children can also begin to explore how they can also make tens when adding to 8 and 7 by moving 2 and 3 counters respectively.

This can progress to using cubes  for bigger numbers; again, this should start with addends ending in 9 eg 19, 29, 39 etc. Encourage the children to see ways to make the calculations become easier, and encourage them to use the language of moving (not adding or subtracting) a cube from one number to the other, to make a friendly number. When ready, they should then develop this strategy to use with addends ending in 8 and 7, by moving 2 and 3 from the other number. In this way, the children can also begin to start doing addition with renaming, without having to grapple with the traditional written algorithm ( or column method).


With first and second classes, it can be helpful also to show what is happening to the actual numbers in the calculation by using an arrow to highlight the quantity moving from one addend to the other. Notice how the calculation is being presented horizontally; this encourages children to consider the whole number and how it relates to the other number in the calculation. It also encourages the child to consider alternatives to the written column method, on which many children can be over-reliant.

In the senior end books for Operation Maths, branching (see red figures below) is used  to show the process of compensation and this can be particularly useful when the numbers involved are bigger than what might practically be shown using concrete materials. Never-the-less, it is always recommended to return to examples that can be demonstrated concretely, if the child finds the intermediary branching stage difficult to understand.


The ultimate aim is, that when presented with a random calculation, that the children will recognize and use compensation if it is an appropriate and efficient strategy. The suitability of compensation as an efficient strategy will depend on the numbers involved, which in turn requires flexibility on the child’s part. In most cases, this will only be likely, if they have previously encountered compensation, and a variety of other mental computation strategies, in structured  and meaningful lessons, like those provided by Operation Maths.


Further reading:


A CPA approach to Maths

As explained in previous posts, Operation Maths is built on a concrete, pictorial, abstract approach, or CPA approach. Developed by American psychologist, Jerome Bruner, it is based on his conception of the enactive, iconic and symbolic modes of representation. Research has consistently shown this methodology to be the most effective instructional approach to enable students to acquire a thorough understanding of the concepts required. This CPA approach is also the mainstay of maths teaching in Singapore.

What exactly is CPA?

Concrete Pictorial Abstract (CPA) is a three step instructional approach that has been found to be highly effective in teaching math concepts.

  • Concrete stage: Also known as the “doing” stage, this involves physically manipulating objects to demonstrate and explore a concept.
  • Pictorial stage: also referred to as the representational stage in some literature, it can be explained as  the “seeing” stage and involves using images to represent the objects previously used in the concrete stage.
  • Abstract stage: also known as the “symbolic” stage and involves using only numbers and symbols to represent and solve a computation.

What does CPA look like?

Below are some examples of a how a CPA approach might look, at each of the main  class levels:

Concrete Pictorial Abstract
Infs Use logic bears, toys, etc to show a set of five and explore the various ways to partition and then re-combine Use counters and ten frames, cubes , blocks, cuisinere rods and/or draw images to represent the concrete Use digits and/or symbols to represent the relationships established during  the previous two stages eg 2 + 3 = 5
1st/2nd Adding and subtracting, without or with renaming using base ten materials eg straws, cubes, base-ten blocks Use or draw images to represent the concrete manipulative Use a written algorithms for addition and subtraction
3rd/4th Explore multiplication using rows of base ten blocks (area model of multiplication) Draw images to represent the concrete manipulatives Use a written algorithm for multiplication
5th/6th Explore operations with fractions using concrete manipulatives eg paper plates in halves, quarters, eighths Draw images to represent the concrete manipulatives Use a written algorithm and/or branching


What does CPA look like in Operation Maths?

The best way to fully appreciate the CPA approach in Operation Maths is to look at some examples.

Addition without renaming (Operation Maths 1)

The children should use real base ten blocks to model the calculations, before progressing to using the pictorial representations and then, finally, to the column method of the written algorithm


Multiplication involving two-digit numbers (Operation Maths 4)

Using base ten blocks to demonstrate multiplication as an area array

Moving on from the actual blocks; drawing a pictorial representation

Moving on from the area models, using grids

Using the partial products method

Ultimately arriving at the traditional algorithm; the abstract stage


Adding fractions and mixed numbers (Operation Maths 5)

Suggestions for concrete activities in the Teacher’s Resource Book (TRB)

Examples shown of how to use the concrete materials, as well as showing how branching and number lines could be used

Fraction pie pieces in the Discovery Book; there are also blank number lines as an extra pictorial resources given on the inside cover of the Pupil’s Book

Other examples of a CPA approach in Operation Maths

These are only a few small selection of examples of the CPA approach across the Operation Maths programme. Other examples are:

  • The inclusion of free five, ten and twenty frames with the infants to 2nd class books which enable teachers to include frames as one of the concrete activities.
  • The inclusion of free place value manipulatives with the 3rd to 6th class books which enable teachers to include explore and use these resources to demonstrate place value, addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
  • The free mini-white boards (MWBs) facilitate the drawing of quick jottings to represent concepts and calculations.
  • The TRBs suggest ways in which the teacher can organise concrete activities and use real objects to explore concepts, including suggestions for stations and Aistear themes in the junior end TRBs.
  • The inclusion of base-ten money as photocopiables in the senior end TRBs i.e. the images of 1c, 10c and €1 coins, €10 and  €100 notes. These can be used to add variety to the resource examples and also provide the means to explore decimal numbers in a concrete way.
  • Within the RUCSAC approach to problem-solving, the stage “create to show what you know” specifically prompts the children to use concrete materials and/or pictorial representations to represent the problem.
  • The use of visual strategies for problem-solving,  such as bar models, number lines (for whole numbers, decimal numbers and fractions), number bonds and branching, also provide a pictorial way to bridge the gap between the concrete and the abstract.
  • Many of the digital eManipulatives, accessible on edcolearning.ie, are themselves pictorial representations of real objects; the sorting and shop eManipulative, the fraction eManipulative, the bar-modelling eManipulative and  the counting stick eManipulative can be all used to demonstrate concepts in a graphic way.
  • The Maths Around us videos also use real life objects to show ways to represent mathematical concepts

Some final thoughts…

My own experience of primary maths was typified by the abstract stage; in maths texts of the time, the exercises and even the explanatory sections were almost entirely digits and symbols based, with little or no visual imagery. In recent times, teachers are more aware of the importance of incorporating concrete activities into maths instruction and do so regularly. However, I do think that this is more evident in the junior classes and that teachers of the senior classes sometimes struggle to find ways to demonstrate concretely the more complex concepts required by the curriculum in those classes.

I also believe that the pictorial stage is often neglected and that instructional activities often jump from the concrete stage straight to the abstract stage. If we think of the three stages as stepping stones on a child’s journey to mathematical understanding, many of the stronger, more mathematically-able children are able to make the leap from the concrete  to the abstract. However, for the less able, this can be too big a leap and they don’t successfully manage the jump. For these children especially, it is vital that we ensure the pictorial stage becomes a regular intermediary part  of the instructional sequence.

Thankfully, teachers no longer have to struggle to come up with ways to represent complex concepts or search for ideas for concrete  and pictorial experiences for their classes; instead, Operation Maths is ticking all those boxes and then some!

You’ve been framed! A closer look at ten-frames

What is a ten-frame?

A ten-frame is a simply a rectangular frame, with 2 rows of 5 squares,  into which counters  or cubes can be placed to illustrate numbers less than or equal to ten. They are extremely useful resources to aid the development of number sense within, and beyond the context of ten. The use of ten-frames was developed by researchers such as Van de Walle (1988) and Bobis (1988).

They can help children:

  • keep track of counting
  • see number relationships eg odd and even numbers, doubles, near-doubles, number bonds
  • understand and learn the number bonds of numbers to and above 10
  • develop their understanding of place value
  • in their learning by being  part of a larger CPA approach to maths instruction


 What about a five-frame or  a twenty-frame?

While the ten-frame is the most common arrangement, multiples can be used to demonstrate numbers beyond ten eg 35 could be shown using three full ten-frames and five on a fourth frame. For exploring numbers up to five (eg with junior infants), a five-frame could be used; however, it is perfectly acceptable to use a ten frame and limit your use to just the numbers up to five (ie the top row).

The Operation Maths programme provides FREE frames with all the junior end books; five-frames for junior infants, ten-frames for senior infants and double-ten frames/twenty-frames for first and second classes. You can also show a digital version of the five-frame or ten-frame using the sorting eManipulative (see below) accessible on edcolearning.ie


Horizontal or vertical?

The most common configuration for a ten-frame is to use it five-wise (horizontally) and this is how they are shown in the Operation Maths books. However, the alternative pair-wise (vertically) configuration can also be used and both configurations have their merits:

  • The five wise (horizontal) configuration encourages links to the benchmark of five (see more on benchmarks below) and typically counters are laid out on the top row first, starting on the left ie 7 is 5 on the top and 2 on the bottom, therefore 5 + 2 = 7 (see image above)
  • The pair wise (vertical) configuration is very useful when emphasising the idea of doubles, near doubles, in-between doubles, odd/even numbers, halves etc. When using ten frames in this way, the counters are usually laid out on the bottom row first, starting on the left ie 7 is 2, 2, 2 and 1 on the left. The 100 square eManipulative, again accessible on edcolearning.ie can be very useful to show this configuration (choose the counters only option and then hide all counters, revealing only what is required)

I would encourage teachers to alternate between both layouts, as this encourages the children to develop flexibility in their thinking, which is a vital requirement in the attainment of mathematical fluency. Similarly, while it is advisable initially to stick to the traditional way of laying out counters/cubes as described above, when children are comfortable with those configurations they should then be encourage to identify the number of counters when arranged more randomly; for example below the children can be challenged to identify the number of counters below and to explain how they came to that answer.


Four relationships for number sense

Van de Walle lists four relationships that children should develop with numbers one through ten, all of which are ideal to be explored and reinforced using ten-frames:

  • spatial relationships
  • one and two more than/less than relationships
  • benchmarks of 5 and 10
  • part-part-whole relationships


 Spatial relationships and subitising

Spatial relationships is the ability to recognise an amount by its shape. Similar to subitising, which is the ability to identify a number of objects at a glance (ie without counting) the use of ten-frames encourages the simultaneous development of both these closely-related skills ie  if shown the standard horizontal configuration of seven the children might explain how they recognise it eg

  • “The top is full so that’s 5 and there’s 2 on the bottom so that’s 7”
  • “I see 3 empty spaces so it must be 7 because 7 and 3 is 10”

However, the children don’t need to start by instantly recognising a number in a frame, rather a progression might look like this:

  • Initially, without using of identifying amounts/numbers, the children are shown two different representations and asked to identify which has more/which has less.
  • The children can be asked to reproduce a pattern created by the teacher eg he/she shows a layout on a frame and children copy  this and show it on their own frames (no numbers)

Again the teacher should vary the representations: initially use five-wise (top row then bottom row) and pairwise (bottom two cells and up) configurations and then progress towards random arrangements, which are more challenging and allows the children to say what they see.


One and two more than/less than relationships

At this point, and within the specified number limits for the class, the teacher can show an amount on a frame eg 7 and then ask how many there would be if one more was added. The children should be encouraged to visualise this, suggest answers (eg they could write this on their Operation Maths MWBs) and explain their reasoning before using the counters/cubes and frames to confirm the answer. Initially, the children may have to count all the counters again, whereas ultimately, it is hoped that they will realise it is more efficient to count on.

Once comfortable with this, the process can be repeated to ask how many there would be if one counter was taken away (a simple introduction to subtraction as deduction), if two more counters were added and if two were taken away.


Benchmarks of 5 and 10

Through repetitive use of the ten frame, the children should already be developing an understanding of the numbers to combine to make these important benchmarks eg 7 + 3 = 10, 4 + 1 = 5 etc. The children can record the benchmarks using number sentences and/or branching number bonds (see opposite). Branching bonds are more visual and less abstract than number sentences alone as it is easier to visualise how 4 and 6 are combined to make 10 and they do not necessitate the use of operational symbols.

Other manipulatives such as the math rack/rekenrek (which is used in Mata sa Rang) also encourage children to think in terms of groups of fives and tens.

In first and second classes, the benchmarks should expand to include 20 and in higher classes other benchmarks, such as 100, are also important.


Part-part-whole relationships

Children need to appreciate that amounts/numbers can be broken down/decomposed into other amounts/numbers and that they can can also be combined to make larger amounts/numbers. In this way, the benchmarks of 5 and 10 are themselves examples of part-part-whole relationships but now the relationships should also include all the other numbers within the limits for the class.

Once children have grasped this understanding, they can begin to apply that to basic number facts (eg addition and subtraction) as they discover new strategies to arrive as answers without having to count all/count on. One of these key strategies is “Make 10” (see below) where the children change a less familiar fact into an easier fact by moving 1, 2 or 3 counters to make 10. Also known as compensation, this is a key strategy which can be applied to much larger numbers in higher classes. It also demonstrates the immense value of ten frame experiences in the junior classes and how they contribute towards the development of a child’s number sense that goes far beyond the less complex computations expected in the junior end classes.

Further reading:

Subitizing: What Is It? Why Teach It? By Douglas H. Clements

The Power of Subitising by Christina Tondevold, The Recovering Traditionalist

Building the benchmarks of 5 and 10 by Christina Tondevold, The Recovering Traditionalist

The Make 10 Strategy by Christina Tondevold, The Recovering Traditionalist

A Sense of ‘ten’ and Place Value from nrich.maths.org

What is a Ten Frame and why is it a useful tool for developing early number relationships and fact fluency?

Ten Frame Activities

Singapore Maths & Operation Maths

What is Singapore Maths and what has it got to do with Operation Maths?

When comparing international mathematical achievement at primary and secondary level, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), is generally regarded as one the best comparison tools. And even a quick review of the score tables of these studies will highlight the consistent appearance of one particular country at the top – Singapore.

Singapore’s consistently high achievement has drawn attention and interest from educationalists internationally, keen to learn from the Singapore successes. And this has led to the buzz word “Singapore Maths” been given to both the maths curriculum and the way maths is taught in this country.

For the most part, the maths content in Singapore Maths is the same as the maths content in most countries, including Ireland. However, Singapore Maths is more than just content; primarily, it is a philosophy for mathematics instruction, in other words it’s more about how to teach maths than it is about what to teach.

In a similar way, the Operation Maths programme is significantly different to other maths programmes in the way it emphasises the importance of children understanding maths, and not just doing maths. Indeed, Operation Maths has been heavily influenced by some of the key elements of the Singapore Maths philosophy and many of  these feature strongly  in its own approaches.

Let’s look at some of the common elements of Singapore Maths and Operation Maths

Singapore Maths

Operation Maths

Demonstrates a concrete, pictorial, abstract (CPA) sequence of instruction based on the work of Jerome Bruner in the 1960’s Also based on a CPA approach, where the TRBs and pupils’ books illustrate how concrete materials can be used to model the concepts and, in particular, the more complex and abstract elements of primary maths in the middle and senior classes
Places huge emphasis on the base-ten system and how a solid understanding of place value will greatly enhance a child’s understanding of operations, decimals, measurement etc Also recognises the huge importance of base-ten understanding and has been specifically designed to allow more time for exploration of the place value concepts so as to give the children the best possible head-start on all the related concepts
Promotes the development of specific problem solving strategies (including bar models)  in a structured and developmental way Also enables the children to explore and use specific strategies throughout the classes and is the only programme currently that enables the children to understand and use bar modelling as a specific problem solving strategy
Encourages the development of mental computation skills via the use of various strategies to decompose and combine numbers to arrive at efficient and accurate answers. Emphasises the importance of flexibility over procedures Similarly, Operation Maths places a huge emphasise on key strategies such as doubles, number bonds and strategies for the basic number facts which encourage the children to become flexible thinkers.
Emphasises the importance of visual structures to illustrate concepts eg ten frames, number bonds, part-whole models and branching all help to illustrate the relationships between numbers and to help show how the numbers can be manipulated to solve calculations All of these strategies are also included in Operation Maths and in particular ten frames are included free with all the junior end books
Believes that everyone can experience success in maths so long as they are taught it correctly and that they also put in the effort to learn and persevere. Similarly, Operation Maths uses key learning statements (i.e. “I am learning to …”) which makes learning and success more attainable for all children
The pupils’ books present the content very visually and encourage the exploration and manipulation of concrete materials by the children Similarly the Operation Maths books have been designed to be very visual, and incorporate a whole, host of visual strategies, rather than relying on just digits, symbols and calculations, which can be too abstract, except for those more mathematically-able.

So there you have it…Operation Maths is like a taste of Singapore with a definite Irish twist!

Operation Maths: also the most child-friendly primary maths programme!

Not only is Operation Maths the most teacher-friendly programme currently available, but it is also the most child-friendly. Read on to find out why.

Enabling children to understand maths, not just do maths

In case you haven’t picked up on it already, Operation Maths is all about understanding, understanding, understanding!

As mentioned before, Operation Maths is based on a concrete, pictorial, abstract (or CPA) approach.

Concrete activities and experiences are emphasised and outlined throughout the pupil books. The Teachers Resource Book (TRB) also provides further suggestion for the ways in which a teacher can use concrete activities with their class.
These experiences are then further developed via the pictorial activities; this may be through interaction with the digital resources and/or via the write-in activities in the books. Of the CPA approach, exploring pictorial representations of materials, numbers, shapes etc., is a vital (but sometimes neglected, particularly at the senior end) step on a child’s journey towards understanding.
All of this should greatly enhance the children’s ability to visualise and understand maths and be more prepared when they meet the more traditional, abstract activities.

Active participation

The high number of concrete based activities within Operation Maths ensures that the children have regular, if not daily, opportunities to be engaged in active learning. The inclusion of free mini-whiteboards  (MWBs) as part of the programme also encourages the active involvement of all the class in any activities as all children must visibly participate. Moreover, the custom-made suite of write-hide-show videos and Maths around us videos (see below for samples) further increase the opportunities to use the MWBs. I challenge you to show the estimation video to your class and not have them all excited and active!

Mastery curriculum

Research suggests that changing chapters/topics every week, especially in senior end and especially the case of number topics, is not conducive to developing a strong understanding for the various topics and that preferable to this is a mastery curriculum approach, where the children are afforded a longer time to engage with, and ultimately master, the concepts. Therefore, in Operation Maths, these topics have a dedicated two weeks block, allowing the children to fully engage with the concepts before moving to a different topic, thereby increasing the likelihood for the children to master the content. So, if you look at the contents page of the Operation Maths books, you will notice that there are fewer chapters than usual but that many of these are “double” chapters, designed to be taught over ten school days, as opposed to five.

A better understanding of the operations

Similarly, research suggests that teaching opposite or inverse operations together, allows the children to better grasp the connections between the two, therefore promoting deeper conceptual understanding. So, in the senior end, addition and subtraction are taught together as part of the same chapter(s), as are multiplication and division. A similar approach is taken to the operations in first and second class once the children have been formally introduced to subtraction.

A seamless transition…

I was primarily involved in authoring all of the number and algebra chapters in the 3rd to 6th class books, while my co-authors Michael Browne and Siobhán Kelleher authored the chapters for measures, data, shape and space for the same classes. This means that, for the children, their experience of the content is very cohesive as it flows seamlessly from one class to the next.
Similarly the 5th and 6th class books were written in light of the NCCA Bridging documents and Project Maths at junior cycle in second level. In particular, extra attention was paid to the correct and accurate use of mathematical terminology which also helps ensure that the child’s transition from primary maths to second level maths is also as seamless as possible.

Other ways in which Operation Maths promotes the development of deeper connections and understanding include:

  • Linkage: the topics are all taught in a very connected way, with cross references being made where appropriate. In particular, measures are not just confined to their own chapters: they are taught in an integrated way across all suitable chapters and particularly across number 
  • Integration: The use of maths across other subjects is also emphasised regularly and particularly as part of the suggested activities in the TRBs. In the senior end there are also themed revision pages in the Pupil’s Book, where maths is explored through History, Geography, Sports etc.
  • The books have a clean, uncluttered design making them easier for children to focus on the concepts and not be distracted by unnecessary images
  • In the senior end, the Pupil’s Book also has clear and detailed teaching panels (easily identifiable by their yellow background) right throughout each chapter, to aid both the teachers and the children, and can be particularly useful if the children are working independently or in small groups.
  • To help make connections with the environment there are dedicated Maths Around Us videos in the digital resources, Maths Around Us activities in the Pupil’s Book and Maths Trails in the TRB photocopiables and in selected Discovery Books

Understanding maths, not just doing maths…the Operation Maths way!

Operation Maths is a pioneering new maths programme for junior infants to sixth class.

Written by a team of six experienced teachers, Operation Maths is built on a concrete, pictorial, abstract approach, or CPA approach, (based on Jerome Bruner’s conception of the enactive, iconic and symbolic modes of representation) which research has consistently shown to be the most effective instructional approach to enable students to acquire a thorough understanding of the concepts required.

This blog post, and future posts, will explain some of the various features of the Operation Maths programme as well as outlining further ways in which this programme can be used to its full potential  to enable your students to truly understand maths, not just do it!

Background & Research

As authors, we researched, and were inspired by, the maths books and schemes used in those countries which are the highest-ranking internationally in relation to attainment in primary maths, for example Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Finland.

We also looked at best practice in New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain and the United States, as well as the recommendations of our own home-grown publications including the PDST handbooks, NCCA publications (e.g. Bridging Guidelines, Assessment Guidelines etc.) and programmes such as Aistear and Mata sa Rang.

Finally, this was blended with the requirements of our primary school curriculum, in order to create a scheme that is truly innovative in its approaches and strategies and the most forward-thinking maths programme currently available for the Irish market.


Programme Components

For pupils in infants to second class:

  • At School BookOperation Maths Junior End
  • At Home Book
  • FREE Pupil Assessment Booklet
  • FREE Mini-white board
  • FREE Frames (five, ten or twenty frame)



For pupils in third class to sixth class:

  • Pupils boSenior Endok
  • Discovery book
  • FREE Pupil Assessment Booklet
  • FREE Mini-white board
  • FREE place value manipulative



For teachers of adopting schools:

  • Resource BooksFREE Teacher copies of all the relevant pupil resources
  • FREE Teachers Resource Book (TRB) which contains all necessary plans, teaching strategies, photocopiables, games, starters etc.
  • FREE access to all of the Operation Maths digital resources on edcolearning.ie, including ebooks, editable plans, and a whole suite of custom made videos  and eManipulatives which greatly enhance the teaching and learning experience for both teachers and pupils.

Furthermore, Operation Maths is the most teacher-friendly  and child-friendly programme currently available.