ERIC Identifier: ED266019
Publication Date: 1985-00-00
Author: Suydam, Marilyn N.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Science Mathematics and Environmental Education Columbus OH.
Recent Research on Mathematics Instruction. ERIC/SMEAC
Mathematics Education Digest No. 2.
What have we learned from research about how to teach mathematics more
effectively? By the early 1980s, a number of publications designed for teachers
discussed research findings which have implications for classroom practice.
These include Driscoll (1980, 1981), Dessart and Suydam (1983), Suydam and
Dessart (1976), and Suydam and Weaver (1981). These publications have been
supplemented by briefer reviews, such as the "Research Reports" in the
ARITHMETIC TEACHER journal, which are designed for quick reading by busy
teachers. This Digest continues the pattern, reviewing recent research of
particular interest to teachers.
The focus of many of these studies has been on two topics: computation,
particularly subtraction and estimation, and problem solving. These two concerns
have garnered continued research attention throughout this century -- the first
presumably because it has been the prevailing focus of the elementary school
mathematics program, and the second because of its difficulty for both teachers
and students at all levels.
Some of the research on computation arises from investigations into how
children learn early number ideas -- from counting and numeration, the studies
move to explore how these are used with the operations of addition and
subtraction. The difficulty children have with subtraction makes it a focal
point for researchers. From the recent research we have evidence to add to that
summarized earlier (see Suydam and Dessart, 1976):
--The decomposition algorithm (see Figure 1) currently used in most
mathematics programs to teach multidigit subtraction with regrouping or renaming
("borrowing") continues to be effective.
--However, the equal additions algorithm is also effective. Second graders
were more likely to be correct and were faster when using it. Thus, it is
plausible to use either algorithm.
How do you do this example? 91 - 24 = 67
You're using decomposition if you do it this way:
11 - 4 = 7 (ones); 8 - 2 = 6 (tens)
If you do it this way, you're using equal additions:
11 - 4 = 7 (ones); 9 - 3 = 6 (tens)
--As you would expect, the main source of difficulty when doing subtraction
involves "borrowing." Children either attempted to borrow incorrectly, or made
inversion errors -- that is, they ignored the location of the digits and
subtracted the smaller number from the larger. When the skills required for
borrowing were taught to third and fourth graders in a step-by-step fashion,
with feedback, their achievement improved.
--The relationship between students' understanding of principles underlying
the decimal numeration system and computational errors in subtraction was
examined. The types of errors third graders made with subtraction with multiple
renaming were linked to their performance on such tasks as regrouping or trading
with manipulative materials, writing multidigit numbers, creating smallest or
largest numbers with digit cards, and naming the value of a digit. Thus, careful
attention to developing numeration ideas can have a payoff in work with
--Children invent strategies to solve subtraction problems. Children used a
variety of modeling and counting strategies even before formal instruction, and
these invented strategies continued to be used for several years. Helping
children to merge invented strategies with the ones taught in school (often more
abstract) requires careful development by the teacher. Baroody (1984) detailed
some informal subtraction strategies, and presented some ideas for the teacher
to use that incorporate these varied strategies.
--The use of counting strategies to solve subtraction problems was also noted
by Steinberg (l984). She taught second graders to use derived fact strategies,
in which known number facts are used to find the solution to unknown facts.
After eight weeks of instruction, children more than doubled their use of
derived facts, which involve more mature ways of thinking than reliance solely
Estimation is another important topic once again receiving increased
attention. It is especially important for two reasons: (1) it is used far more
often than paper-and-pencil skills in everyday life and (2) it is particularly
important as both adults and children do more work with calculators and
computers. Ways to check the reasonableness of results are vital.
--Estimation skills depend strongly on a student's "number sense". They need
to develop a "friendliness" for numbers, including awareness that most
computations can be done in many ways, rather than relying on one algorithm.
--Even at the tenth-grade level, counting skill is related to accuracy in
estimating, and better counters feel more confident about the estimates they
Reys (1984) reviewed the research on both estimation and mental computation,
and presented specific teaching suggestions. This is a worthwhile article for
teachers to check.
Many summaries of research on problem solving have been prepared. Such
summaries have noted the shift in emphasis from the problem to the solver; from
what types of problems to use, to how to teach students to solve a wide variety
of problems. Nevertheless, some research still concerns problem types:
--Problems with logic content or deductive structure were most preferred by
secondary students, while least preferred were problems with geometry content
and inductive structure.
--Novice algebra students had much more difficulty with surface features of
problems than did experienced students. Novices rarely attended to the structure
of the problem, a characteristic of good solvers.
--Eighth-grade students were better able to solve real-life situational
problems than written problems. Errors could often be traced to weaknesses with
content and misunderstanding of concepts.
--Problems which include needed information but few words were not as easy to
interpret as problems with more words.
Research has identified problem-solving strategies used by students and has
indicated that teaching students to use such strategies promotes problem-solving
achievement. Current research continues to support this finding:
--Second-grade pupils given lessons on diagramatic modeling and deriving
number sentences made significant increases in achievement.
--Ninth-grade students taught to build tables had higher problem-solving
scores than students taught only translation. Moreover, table-building appeared
to be especially helpful to students at the concrete level of cognitive
development - the lower achievers.
--Four heuristic strategies were taught to seventh and eighth graders: making
a table, making a diagram, analysis by simplification, and guessing and testing.
Not only did they learn to use the strategies, but in solving a novel problem,
they also exhibited greater flexibility in trying other strategies when one
--A promising process-oriented instruction program on problem solving has
been developed. Experimental classes in grades 5 and 7 scored significantly
higher on ability to understand problems, plan solution strategies, and get
How does a teacher's behavior affect problem-solving achievement? Behle
(1985) found some differences between successful and less successful teachers of
problem solving in grade 7. Successful teachers asked questions frequently,
while less successful teachers simply demonstrated procedures. Successful
teachers used a variety of problem sources, while the others simply used
textbook problems. Successful teachers frequently gave additional credit to
students for correcting mistakes; the others did not. Successful teachers more
often encouraged students to think for themselves, while less successful
teachers did much more for their students, including setting up problems.
In a different type of study, Orehovec (1984) traced the development of
mathematical problem solving over a 90-year period. He found that
problem-solving models developed decades ago continue to be used. He also
concluded that problem solving can be successfully taught. For this to happen,
there must be a willingness on the part of classroom teachers and others to
implement fully a problem-solving approach to teaching mathematics.
Additional information on these studies may be found in the references which
follow, and others may be located by checking the listing of research in the
July (1985) issue of the JOURNAL FOR RESEARCH IN MATHEMATICS EDUCATION.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Baroody, A. J. "Children's Difficulties in Subtraction: Some Causes and
Cures." ARITHMETIC TEACHER 32:14-19; Nov. 1984.
Behle, J. H. " The Nature of Problem Solving Instruction in Seventh Grade
Mathematics Classrooms." DAI 45A: 2428; Feb. 1985.
Dessart, D. J. and M. N. Suydam. CLASSROOM IDEAS FROM RESEARCH ON SECONDARY
SCHOOL MATHEMATICS. Reston, VA: NCTM, 1983.
Driscoll, M. J. RESEARCH WITHIN REACH: ELEMENTARY SCHOOL MATHEMATICS. St.
Louis: CEMREL, 1980.
Driscoll, M. J. RESEARCH WITHIN REACH: SECONDARY SCHOOL MATHEMATICS. St.
Louis: CEMREL, 1981.
Orehovec, J. P. "Implications of the Development of Mathematical Problem
Solving, 1894-1983." DAI 45A: 1062; Oct. 1984.
Reys, R. E. "Mental Computation and Estimation: Past, Present, and Future."
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL 84: 548-57; May 1984.
Steinberg, R. A. "A Teaching Experiment of the Learning of Addition and
Subtraction Facts." DAI 44A: 3313; May l984.
Suydam, M. N. and D. J. Dessart. CLASSROOM IDEAS FROM RESEARCH ON
COMPUTATIONAL SKILLS. Reston, VA: NCTM, 1976.
Suydam, M. N. and J. F. Weaver. USING RESEARCH: A KEY TO ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
MATHEMATICS. Columbus, OH: ERIC/SMEAC, 1981.