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Catching Up On Maths

Maths resources on desk

Playing Catch-up
Teachers and parents have done an incredible job working together to minimise the disruption to children’s schooling this year. Clearly though, the unique circumstances of this year will have us all playing catch-up for some time.
For teachers, this means that getting the most value out of your class time and resources has become even more important. For parents, this means continuing to support teachers, albeit in perhaps a slightly different way.


What Are We Catching Up On?
Generally, we’re seeing disruption:

    • in topics that were already problem areas. For Lower Primary, that’s basic number facts (addition and subtraction) and time and place value. For Middle and Upper Primary, it’s tricky subjects like fractions and basic facts (multiplication/division) and place value to two decimal places.
    • in areas where special equipment is required such as in geometry and measurement.


Do you run your class with a yearly plan? You might need to chop and change your plan, bringing forward the most important stuff and being prepared to prune a little. For example, many probability concepts are revisited in Year 4, 5 and 6, so you may be able to pick these up later. A great deal of fraction work begins in Year 4, and it’s essential that this is covered.
Are you a new teacher? Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that every content descriptor in the Curriculum needs equal attention. For example, here are two descriptors in the Foundation year from the Australian Curriculum, “subitise small collections of objects” and “connect days of the week to familiar events and actions.” The former is a key concept in mathematics and failing to grasp it can really impede progress, while the latter will likely be learnt informally in Year 1 or 2.


Parents as Partners
I think now many parents have developed a new appreciation for the work of teachers – they’ve seen how demanding remote learning can be. Parents themselves have become fatigued.
Most parents want to help and you can help them help you by giving them clear materials to share with their kids. We have developed a simplified look at the Australian Curriculum which you are welcome to share with parents and coordinate with them.

When parents understand the point of the materials and tasks, including the catch-up work you’re sending home, they are better equipped to help you impart that knowledge to the students.


Picking Versatile Tools
Parents will not necessarily have the specialty mathematics manipulatives that a school uses but simple materials – such as a collection of buttons that may be sorted according to a range of criteria – are still very powerful learning tools. Sorting and classifying involves the use of mathematical language and provides an opportunity for mathematical reasoning.
Take a look at MTA’s short video on button sorting for some inspiration.


At Home: Making and Creating (STEAM)
One avenue that will help catch-up particularly for younger students is drawing out some of the learning in everyday tasks.
I have seen some amazing LEGO creations constructed by my grandchildren. Without realising it, they are combining aspects of mathematics, science, technology and creativity, often referred to as STEM or STEAM. Most children will have some LEGO (or similar construction bricks) at home and will spontaneously design and build all types of models. LEGO itself provides further ideas on its website. It is well worth having a look.


Another catch-up avenue that parents can assist in is the use of games. Games are a fantastic catch-up tool. Playing games with children can help maintain relationships, while at the same time alerting parents to any issues that their children might be experiencing with mathematics. Most popular dice and card games, as well as domino puzzles and games, will support the development of fluency and reasoning. As children play these games their fluency will improve and parents can focus on any aspect of the mathematics inherent in the game that might be causing concern.
Here are some specific games that highlight specific concepts in mathematics.

Designed by Associate Professor Catherine Attard, this game not only promotes fluency but also strategic thinking. See here for a  video & detailed description of this game.

As the name implies, this card game involves combining numbers using basic number facts such as addition, subtraction, multiplication (tables) and division. Originally this game was designed to be played with two to six players, but during the COVID-19 lockdown parents have increasingly been looking for games that are suitable for a single player. Extra games that may be played with a standard set of COMBO cards may be downloaded here
I have made some short videos to explain how each of the games is played, which you can find here.


Specific Skills
Children require regular exposure to certain concepts like basic number facts such as tables. One specific skill that needs regular exposure is “telling the time”. Children need to tell the time on both analogue and digital timepieces. In basic terms, Year 1 children are taught to tell the time to the half hour, Year 2 to the quarter hour and Year 3 to the nearest minute. I think children should be encouraged to wear an analogue watch and be asked to refer to the time regularly. A child can act as a timekeeper and note specific times throughout the day such as lunchtime at 12:00 noon. In a school environment there are wall clocks and the wristwatches that match. The Easy Read Student Watch is designed for that very purpose. I recommend that two children in the class are allowed to wear the watch for a day or week and act as official timekeepers.


My Versatile Materials Picks
In terms of a basic kit of materials, I think two six-faced dot dice, two ten-faced 0-9 dice {LINK}, a pack of school-friendly cards, some counters {link} and some dominoes would make for a lovely take-home pack. There are so many things that you can do with this basic set of materials.


Featured Items


Combo Cards

Easy Read Student Watch

Six-faced Dot Dice



Dr Paul Swan Biography
Dr Paul Swan has taught at primary, secondary and tertiary level. He is an award-winning author having written over 50 books. He now writes, makes games and maths manipulatives and speaks to whoever will listen.


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