Touch math June 10, 2011Posted by mareserinitatis in education, math, teaching, Uncategorized.
Tags: finger counting, math, memory, touch math
I have another rant about elementary math education, but this one is slightly different.
I am completely appalled that schools still do not teach touch math.
You probably have no idea what I’m talking about because you’ve probably never heard of it.
When I was in fourth grade, we moved to a town in rural North Dakota called New Salem. At the time, the population was 2000. Now it’s half that. If you’ve ever driven through North Dakota and seen the world’s largest Holstein cow on the side of a hill, you’ve seen New Salem. (The cow, by the way, is named Salem Sue.)
Shortly after we moved there, I was sent to get some extra help in math. In fourth grade, I was still counting on my fingers. Some people term that a math disability now. However, the way this rural school saw it, there was an easy fix. I was sent to the special ed teacher for two one-hour sessions. I was, of course, feeling very ashamed about my finger counting. She said that it’s not unusual and that she had a way to fix it. She pulled out a piece of paper with an image that looked something like this (only, back then, it was black and white because I grew up in the days before they invented color):
So what the heck is this?
It’s a way of computing addition and subtraction facts.
The dots are places where you touch the number, and the dots with rings around them are places where you touch the number twice. You’ll notice that seven has a single touch and three double touches. Basically, when a child is sitting there with a math problem in front of them, they can touch the number in the designated places, and count those touches rather than their fingers.
As I got the hang of this (which was very quickly), I started being able to see the points and make computations without touching the numbers. I started developing some visual strategies for calculations. Eventually, with practice, I ended up memorizing my math facts. I’ve written before about how math facts are better memorized through practice than rote. I think this would be another great method for teaching facts, as it obviously worked for me. In fact, you can look at the Touch Math website and see that there’s a decent amount of research showing that the strategy works well both for average children as well as those with learning disabilities.
So why isn’t it being used? I’m still surprised that teachers in a small rural school district were thinking so far ahead. I’m not sure why larger schools have not followed suit in the past 30 years, and it’s really unfortunate that so many people have not heard of it.