Making sense of missing number problems… at Early Level!!!

Hopefully that’s got your attention!

The mystery of why missing number problems are so maddening for many pupils is not really so mysterious when you begin to unpick why they might be having difficulties with them.

From experience, and this is purely anecdotal, it usually comes down to problems like
4 + ? = 9 or ? – 3 = 8 frequently being explored with digits alone… not a context or a concrete material in sight… no wonder it’s so difficult.

For context, I frequently carry out the basic facts diagnostic assessment with pupils from P1 to S3.  This includes both pupils who appear to be experiencing difficulties and those who are appear more confident in maths.  The most common answer to the missing number problem which is similar to this one: ? – 6 = 6 is… ZERO!  If I had to guess I would say for pupils that get this far in the assessment, the percentage of pupils answering zero for this is somewhere in the region of 90%.

It doesn’t need to be this hard though and early understanding about equivalence can be explored through engaging stories and activities.  Erikson Institute have conveniently collated ideas to use with 3 such stories that explore the idea of equivalence and which build the foundations for this type of problem before we even need to think about getting pupils to see this written down.

The three books mentioned include:

A Balancing Act by Ellen Stoll Walsh

Screen Shot 2019-10-07 at 21.34.33.png

Twelve Ways to Get to Eleven by Eve Merriam

One is a Snail, Ten is a Crab by April Pulley Sayre

Click on the article to find out the ways these books could be used to explore this concept.

Do you know of any other books that explore these ideas?  If you do, feel free to share them.

After reading and exploring the stories, what other follow up ideas could you use to explore these concepts further?

Thanks to Seonaid, our Early Years expert for sharing this article.

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