Feb 23, 2011 - Culture, Parenting, Philosophy, Random    4 Comments

Maths Makes Sense: My humble opinion

Maths is easy

Georgia’s school recently held an Information Evening for the parents of KS1, mainly to introduce a new Maths scheme that the school had recently bought in to – Maths Makes Sense.

Designed and developed by Richard Duune, I first heard and saw Mr Duune and his new approach to Maths teaching in a Dispatches programme on Channel 4 in early 2010. (A related Math quiz) In ‘Kids Don’t Count’, featured in typical sensational broadcasting fashion, Mr Duune was brought in to ‘turn around’ Maths instruction at a couple of schools in the South East. The programme focussed mainly on the vast discrepancy in Maths ability among students and how being perceived as a boring subject, students were unable to answer some very basic Math questions.

The new Maths Makes Sense scheme is essentially a new style of presenting mathematics based on visual aids and models to both allow children to be able to better visualise the direct link between numbers and physical objects and a new style of teachings mathematics that rely significantly on the teacher to provide the information in an engaging, stimulating and fun way.

As in the programme, Maths Makes Sense makes use of quantifiable objects to represent numbers. Mainly, plastic or paper cups which can then be further divided in to portions to represent fractions.

A sum is defined as a ‘Math Story’ and children are advised to look at sums as a story.

Cups are placed on a resource table with another table labelled the Math table on which the Math Story is ‘played’ out.
For example for the sum 2 + 2 = ; the sum is read in the typical fashion but acted upon 1 part at a time, so 2 cups are moved from the resource table and placed on to the Maths table, the sum is then read again and the next action is decided upon. In the case of (2 + 2) another 2 cups are carried over from the resource table to the Maths table. The question ‘How MUCH is this?’ is then asked while looking/referring to the number of cups on the Maths table.

And this final question is very specifically How MUCH is this? instead of How MANY are there? (Personally I don’t ‘get’ this nor do I understand the logic of the wrong grammar.)

There is a significant amount of body/arm actions to help with remembering concepts; for example multiplication is explained with arms crossed over the chest ‘I love love love this so much I do this ‘x’ times’ Or divide: one hand on top of head and the other under the chin.

A little bit of further digging around has resulted in the ideas and philosophies that inform Mr Duunes approach. He states quite clearly that within this scheme and the underlying method of teaching relies on ‘Teaching as Performance’.

The Dispatches programme showed Mr Duune in his class of 10 year olds (I think) who could not multiply 3 x 4, the passion and excitement he generated was nothing short of infectious. It was not difficult to see and understand why kids would get excited by his style of teaching Maths.

However, as Georgia’s school moves to incorporate this new Maths scheme, much as I want to like this new exciting style of Maths I find myself having more concerns about Maths teaching in the long term.

Questions like:

How do the children move on from using cups to mental maths?
What about children who are already capable of mental arithmatic or who already grasp the concepts – would this scheme help them or hold them back?
And of course the typically Asian-side of me asks, if the Chinese, Korean and Japanese kids do it so well without theatrics – how have they done it and why can’t we over here?

I think we are very lucky in Georgia’s school that the Maths Coordinator is a very dedicated, completely inspired teacher and I trust that with some home and school co-ordination all will be well.

Have you, as a Parent or Teacher used or heard of this scheme? What have your experiences been and what do you think of it?

© 2011, Li-ling. All rights reserved.


  • I haven’t heard of this scheme specifically, but having homeschooled my kids in their younger years, I get the idea of allowing the kids hands-on interaction with objects to gain familiarity with numbers and math concepts. My older son developed his own way of adding two digit numbers in his head. I’d periodically have him explain to me how he did it, and it just amazed me that he came up with a successful way of regrouping that I couldn’t possibly have taught him because I couldn’t really do it myself. It always occurred to me that in a classroom this kind of freedom to get comfortable with numbers and math concepts is not really possible, but kids must simply follow whatever program is presented and hope it works for them. This scheme seems to be yet another way to make one method fit all the kids in the class, a goal which I’m not sure is achievable in the younger years.

  • Thanks for sharing your experiences Elena. The official scheme is very very new, I think it has not been written yet for the later half of primary age (KS2) yet. I do hope the teachers keep an open mind about this and supplement and complement the scheme rather than using it exclusively. I would love to learn more about how your son does his 2 digit addition. At what age did your kids start school again? I love the idea of home-schooling and every now and then toy with it, I know G would prefer it to school, but I’m not sure that I am prepared for the demands on my time yet. Will visit your blog and learn more about your experiences.

  • My oldest daughter started school in 8th grade, my oldest son in 5th grade, and my middle daughter in 2nd grade. The youngest two aren’t school-aged yet, so we’ll see! 🙂

    Garth came up with that trick of adding the tens and then adding the ones, then if that was a two digit number, adding the ten back into the tens but still hanging onto the number he came up with for the ones. Sometimes he could even switch it up and add the ones from one number onto the other number, then add the tens to that sum. And he was fast, too, like his brain just knew how to chew up those numbers.
    While I can understand it, of course, I just can’t hang onto all those numbers in my head. He could do it when none of the numbers were even written down, but since I learned how to add on paper, my computations are channeled visually, so that if I try to do it his way, I can’t even remember what the original numbers are by the time I’m done with adding the tens. I have to be able to look back at the numbers, or sometimes if I really focus, I can write them in the air and add them with my finger! It’s funny how incapacitated I feel by being trained to do math a certain way on paper, and now it would take great effort for me to retrain myself. Since I almost always have paper and pen around, I figure why bother.

  • Hi Elena Thanks very much for sharing.
    That Garth developed his own method of addition is very interesting. About a month ago, I saw a presentation (from one of the schools we support) on how to do double digit addition exactly as you describe. It made good sense to me, but as you say, you do need to be able to hold several numbers in your head.
    I think we will always rely on the methods we are most used to and find easiest for us – nothing wrong with that at all! 🙂

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