EXPIRED! Teaching Students to Add Using Their Fingers
Before I left Louisiana I was apart of a LSU Cain Center collaborative called the Math and Science Project. The math and science project’s goal was to build elementary teacher’s math and science content knowledge. I learned so much from this collaboration but there was one thing that always stuck with me, the article 13 Rules that Expire. This article highlighted on all the rules that were taught to us and now we are teaching these math rules and tricks to our students.
For example, we say that addition and multiplication make numbers bigger. This is true when you are referring to whole numbers, however that is not the case when multiplying fractions and adding negative numbers.
When I started teaching addition of larger numbers to my first graders I introduced the number line to them. I was very surprised to see that the students were having a hard time making the jump from counting on their fingers to using the number line as a tool. Well, one day one of my students was trying to add 8 + 5 and he became so frustrated with trying to add these 2 numbers using his fingers. After trying several times he came up to my desk and said, “Ms. Williams I need help.” So he put up his 8 fingers and tried to add the 5. I just sat there because I knew that he would not have a enough fingers for the answer. After a couple of attempts to add the 2 numbers he realized that he did not have enough fingers. He stopped counting and and looked up at me and said, ” I don’t have enough fingers.” When he said this my mind immediately took me back to the article 13 rules that expire.
Teaching kindergartners to use their fingers as a strategy to add will expire or become useless when they enter 1st grade because as the quantities or numbers increase the addition strategy becomes ineffective, which creates confusion and frustration in many students.
The addition strategy Counting On would be a more effective strategy to teach kindergarten and 1st grade students because this strategy never expires! The students identify the largest number and then count on.I began to teach the counting on strategy to my student but I quickly realized that he did not know how to compare to numbers. After witnessing this phenomenon in my classroom I’m sold on the idea that teaching students to add using their fingers masks other deficits that students may have with a particular math concept. In my student’s case he did not know how to compare numbers to determine which number was the largest. It also creates early learning deficits and misconceptions in students who have more math classes behind them than in front of them. When I was a TAP Master Teacher I would always tell the teachers that I supported that you cannot “unteach” a method once it’s taught and practiced, because you can’t “unlearn” how to ride a bike once you have learned to ride it.