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Summary of Reference

McIntosh, Alistair

Mental Computation and Number Sense of Western Australian Students.

Bibliographic data:
McIntosh, A. (1996). Mental computation and number sense of Western Australian students. In J. Mulligan & M. Mitchelmore, (Eds). Children’s Number Learning (pp.259-276). Adelaide : Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers.

Increasingly, the opinion is being expressed that written computation plays too large a part in the primary school mathematics curriculum at the expense of mental computation skills. The focus on written computation is criticised variously because adults do not use it, it is mistrusted and shunned by children, gives false ideas about mathematical ability and emphasises procedures.

This paper describes research designed to determine the mental computation strategies of grade 2 to 7 students in order to underpin subsequent curriculum development aimed at providing more relevant and efficient mental computation activities for primary teachers. Three research projects are described: a ‘mental arithmetic project’; a ‘mental computation test/Western  Australia study’; and a ‘number sense test/Western  Australia project’.

Overall, the research shows that children have a wide range of mental computation strategies but that most do not acquire these as a result of deliberate classroom interventions or practices. Indeed, the children probably acquire their strategies despite classroom teaching. It seems also that teaching specific ‘strategies’ or ‘rules’ in isolation from broader number understanding is unlikely to be useful. More important to opening up simple and efficient strategies is an understanding by the children of place value and ownership of its essential features.