Use your Number Sense! Maths in the Primary Classroom

In life we use Maths in a variety of situations, and in early childhood children learn Maths concepts through their everyday play. It follows that children throughout their primary school years should be learning about Maths in a variety of real life contexts. This helps them see the relevance of what they are learning but also to be able to transfer concepts and skills in different challenges. In the WA Curriculum we call this ‘Number Sense’.

The primary classroom offers a multitude of opportunities to develop Number Sense through practical activities and group learning. In one classroom enquiry students were required to estimate the height of a tree and find ways to measure something they could not reach. Students used aspects of measurement such as ratio, proportional reasoning and properties of triangles in their calculations (Brown, Watson et al 2011, ‘A primary classroom enquiry: Estimating the height of a tree’, Australian Primary Mathematics Classroom, vol. 16, no.2). The Measurement skills planned for this lesson would have been introduced around this activity and then reinforced in other contexts.

Educator Tracey Muir quotes McIntosh, Reys & Reys (1992, p.3) as defining Number Sense by ‘an ability to use numbers and quantitative methods as a means of communicating, processing and interpreting information’ (Muir,
T. 2012, ‘What is a reasonable answer? Ways for students to investigate and develop their number sense’, Australian Primary Mathematics Classroom, vol. 17, no.1). Muir reports on activities used with primary students whereby questions
around real-life situations were used to guide understanding about the meaning of numbers and particular numerical operations. One method involved asking three questions about the possible distance between two cities, 2 planets and so on, then recording three answers to each question, as put forward by some of the students. The class as a group then went on to investigate which answers could be said to be a reasonable guess. Students discussed what makes a good estimate and then progressed to other activities from real-life contexts requiring them to estimate.

Such collaborative, hands-on investigations are invaluable but cannot always be replicated outside of the classroom. At school, students have the opportunity to talk with each other and work in small groups, then compare their results and reasoning with other small groups, under the guidance of the teacher who acts as a facilitator, posing questions and providing resources for investigation. The flipside of this investigative approach is that students need varying amounts of time to assimilate the learning to be taken from an open-ended problem, and some will need more reinforcement than
others. This is where extra homework or guided tuition can help.

Our point of difference at My Academy is that we offer the best of both worlds. We have small group classes guided by qualified teachers, catering for open-ended problem-solving and discussion, as well as one-to-one tuition where students can practise their new concepts in their own time, again with careful guidance by a professional educator.

For more information on group and one-to-one Maths tuition visit


The Australian Mathematics Association of Teachers Inc., ‘AAMT Journal Articles’, sourced 23/7/12


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