Engaging with the research presented here will deepen your understanding of the difference and benefits of teaching and learning mathematics instrumentally and relationally, and what the evidence says actually works in mathematics teaching using research-informed strategies.


Adults assume that learning to count is easy, because we cannot remember the time before we could count. This research explains the principles, the sequence, and the challenges.

Education Development Center,  interactivestem.org and researchandpractice.org, explains that even if young children can recite the number sequence (i.e. say one, two, three, etc) we cannot assume that they can count small sets of objects. The important principles and challenges involved in learning to count are identified.

Ann Gervasoni from Australian Catholic University’s research finding several common difficulties and issues related to learning to count.


Advances in technology means algorithms and procedures for addition and subtraction are no longer necessary. This research explains that mental strategies to develop reasoning are our focus.

Janette Bobis’ research on mental computation is now receiving greater emphasis in the curriculum and in classrooms across the world than ever before. Her research demonstrates the importance of the empty number line.

Karen Fuson’s research suggests that when teaching focuses on algorithms, children do not learn place value concepts or multi-digit addition and subtraction adequately, and that even children who calculate correctly show little understanding of the procedures they are using. (Free login to jstor.org)

This book emphasises the vital link between place value and operations, finding that a good understanding of addition, subtraction, and place value is crucial for strategies in multiplication, division, fractions, algebra, and statistics. It explains that students initially use counting to solve addition and subtraction problems, then start to think strategically, first with smaller whole numbers, then with larger ones, and later with fractions, decimals, and integers.

George J. Roy’s study examined teachers’ understanding of number concepts and operations, adding and subtracting in base 8 (rather than base 10) to allow prospective teachers to reason about addition and subtraction with whole numbers in similar ways that students’ reason in base 10.


Place value is so much more than naming the column a digit is in. This research explains the deeper understandings about place value, their complexity and importance.

Noel Thomas from Charles Sturt University, Bathurst NSW’s cross-sectional study assessing children’s understanding of the number system.

Jenni Way’s article on the importance of a strong ‘sense of ten’ as a foundation for both place value and mental calculations.

South African Numeracy Chair Project at Rhodes University’s article with research and activities using 10 frames for developing early number relationships.

University of Virginia’s research finding that the development of young children’s number sense and understanding of the base 10 system is essential for the acquisition of more complex number skills in later years.

University of Notre Dame Australia’s research on page 7 explores the complexity of standard place value.

New York State Common Core Mathematics Curriculum conceptual exploration of the multiplicative patterns of the base ten system, including the relationship to metric measurement.

Clements and McMillen’s NCTM-published research finding the effect of using materials in understanding mathematical concepts depends on the teaching. (Free download after joining for free.)


Multiplication and division goes much further than ‘groups’ and ‘tables’. This research explains the importance of multiplicative thinking, and of understanding, intentionally using, generalising, and explaining the distributive property.

Di Siemon’s research finds that access to multiplicative thinking has been identified as the single, most important reason for the eight-year range in mathematics achievement in Years 5 to 9, and explains that while elements of multiplicative thinking are represented in the Australian Curriculum, the connections between these and how they contribute to the development of multiplicative thinking over time is not entirely clear. (3rd lecture from top of page)

Di Siemon’s research explains the characteristics of multiplicative thinking as a capacity to work flexibly and efficiently with an extended range of numbers, and an ability to recognise and solve a range of problems involving multiplication or division including direct and indirect proportion, and – the means to communicate this effectively in a variety of ways. The research demonstrates the difference between multiplicative and additive thinking, identifies lack of multiplicative thinking as the major barrier to learning mathematics in the middle years.

Nelis Vermeulen’s research explains that children have a intuitive grasp of the distributive property, and the importance of developing their capacity to intentionally use it, to generalise it, and to explain it.


Fractions are so much more than ‘equal parts’. This research explains the 5 ways to understand fractions, and how to teach fractions multiplicatively.

Charalambous’ research explains that fractions comprise a multifaceted notion encompassing five interrelated subconstructs (part-whole, ratio, operator, quotient and measure), and that when teaching fractions, teachers need to scaffold students to develop a profound understanding of the different interpretations of fractions.

Annie Mitchell’s paper demonstrates how the 5 sub-constructs of Fractions are underpinned by three concepts: partitioning, equivalence, and unit-forming, explaining that these concepts provide better categorisation of the underlying fraction concepts.

Doug Clarke’s research has used student interviews to unify the 5 sub-constructs into 3 big ideas – identification of the unit, partitioning and the notion of quantity (how “big” a fraction is).

Doug Clarke, Anne Roche, and Annie Mitchell’s paper provides insights into their research, and identifies 10 research-based recommendations for the focus of fractions teaching.

Di Siemon’s research explains that focusing fractions understanding on partitioning underpins the fraction sub-construct of fractions as division.

Yanik, Helding, and Flores’ research into the sub-construct of measure explains how the number line is a practical model as the base unit is identified and reiterated from the zero point.

Bruce, Chang, and Flynn’s review examines how the foundational concepts of fractions is the base for adding and subtracting fractions, and proposes a progression of fraction number sense.

Forrester and Chinnappan’s research distinguished between the procedural and conceptional knowledge of teachers in operating with fractions, finding that procedural knowledge was dominant, leading to a dominance of procedural teaching.

Fazio and Siegler’s research identified that, although understanding fractions is essential for learning algebra, geometry and other aspects of higher mathematics, students’ difficulties with fractions stem from a lack of conceptual understanding. They recommends ideas for introducing fraction concepts, ideas to help older students understand fraction magnitudes, ways of helping students use fractions to solve rate, ratio and proportion problems, and methods to increase teacher’s conceptual knowledge of fractions.


Decimals are so much more than the decimal point. This research explains the reason some common misunderstandings arise about decimals.

Steinle’s paper identifies that common misconceptions students have about decimals have been caused by procedural knowledge, and suggests remedies involving developing conceptual understanding including the relationship to the denominator in fractions, the importance of ‘one’, and multiplicative place value.

This very large dataset has provided information about which decimal misconceptions are more prevalent at which year levels and which misconceptions are hardest to leave.
Suggestions for teaching to overcome decimal misconceptions are then presented.


Geometry is more than naming shapes and objects, and Measurement is more than naming the size of shapes and objects. This research explains the relationships between Geometry, Measurement, and Number. 

This chapter explains the steps in spatial reasoning that children go through from recognising, naming features and properties, and analysing shapes and objects. It identifies that measurement connects number and space, and begins with understanding length, area and volume involving spatial structure (squares and cubes), and volume involving measurement (liquid). (Chapter 6)

Tom Lowrie, Tracy Logan, and Brooke Scriven’s chapter examine the connectivity between measurement and geometry and the inter-connectivity with number, identifying the potential for teachers to develop rich, conceptually-connected learning opportunities.

Evidence indicates that cognitive development, along with spatial visualisation skills, plays a greater role in learning geometry than memory skills. The focus of this paper is on mathematical content knowledge for teaching elementary mathematics with particular attention to geometry and measurement.

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