Deepening Understanding of Column Value

When learning about place value, an emphasis is placed on the column value of each digit. For example, the value of the digit 7 in 273 is 70. In this blog I will look at two ways to extend this understanding of place value. In the blog Seeing the Relative Size of Numbers I explain another important building block in children’s knowledge of number.

A child is asked to show 32 using dienes blocks. They get three tens and two ones. I ask the child to show me 32 in another way. Do they recognise that they can use 32 ones? Given two tens, I ask ‘How many more ones make 32? We see that 32 is also two tens and twelve ones.

This basic idea is the foundation for many place value investigations. For example, the I See Reasoning question ‘How many ways can 0.32 be made using 0.1 and 0.01 coins?’ One of the I See Problem-Solving – LKS2 tasks also explores this idea: it’s one of the free sample tasks which can be downloaded from this page. The ‘build’ task introduces the idea of making 230 in different ways:

The main task presents this challenge:

There are ‘support’ and ‘explain’ tasks. Here’s the ‘extend’ prompt:

Of course, 423 can be made with four 100s, two 10s and three 1s. It can be made with 423 ones. There are so many combinations beyond that to be explored.

Another of my favourite types of investigations are ‘sum of the digits’ tasks – this blog gives an example from I See Problem-Solving – UKS2. Here’s how you can introduce a sum of the digits question. To start off with, present this question from I See Reasoning – UKS2, but with part of the instruction covered up:

The correct answer is 102 and 98. Then the sum of the digits element of the question can be uncovered:

Children have to find ways to increase the digit sum for the 3-digit number without increasing its size too much (e.g. increasing the ones value), and how the sum of the digits for the 2-digit number can be reduced without making the number significantly smaller. Should the 9 be used in the ones column for the 3-digit number or the tens column for the 2-digit number? It’s one of my favourite tasks!

The blog Deepening Understanding of Column Value gives more ideas for how to develop children’s understanding of large quantities. I would love to hear from you if you use any of these ideas or questions in your classroom. I hope you enjoy getting to know your new class!

For information about NCETM-accredited training by Gareth Metcalfe, please visit – bookings are being taken from Spring term 2020 onwards.

Guest Post: Supporting maths at home can help tackle maths anxiety

This is a guest post by Jill Cornish, Editorial Director, Primary Maths, Oxford University Press

Maths anxiety is a huge issue across the UK from early childhood into adulthood. National Numeracy have found that across the UK four in five adults have a low level of numeracy and individuals earn less when they are less numerate .

Everyone involved in influencing education has a role to play in tackling maths anxiety, from teachers and families at home to media and government. Maths anxiety can be contagious. Parents and carers who aren’t confident with maths themselves often inadvertently pass on these feelings to their own children, creating a cycle of negativity around maths.

As part of Oxford University Press’s Positive About Numbers campaign, we recently ran a series of teacher-led hackathons with primary schools across the country. These were designed to give teachers a safe space to share their experiences of maths anxiety in the classroom and start to pool ideas about practical ways to reduce it.

Amongst other issues, bringing together this wealth of professional insight highlighted the importance of taking a holistic approach to tackling maths anxiety across the classroom and at home. While many teachers are aware of the challenges and potential impact of maths anxiety, parents and carers may not have the background or resources to help their children overcome this barrier to learning. This is why collaboration between school and home is so crucial.

It’s important not to add more pressure or overwhelm families who may already feel nervous about maths. The hackathons identified many light-touch ways teachers can support families to be confident about helping children develop a positive maths attitude. It could be as simple as signposting trusted resources for learning at home, or encouraging families to introduce gameified elements of maths, for example through puzzles and quizzes. Small changes at home can make a big difference to young learners’ attitude to maths over time.

Teachers who took part in the hackathons also highlighted the importance for children of making meaningful links between maths and everyday life. Cooking with the family at home or keeping score in games can engage young children with maths in a way that really brings it to life.

One of the main challenges for teachers is that maths anxiety is not always easy to spot. It can be displayed in many different ways depending on the child and these presentations are not always obviously linked with maths anxiety. Some children may openly copy or make up answers, some may be unusually quiet, other may act up and be disruptive in the classroom. This challenge is even greater for parents and carers who don’t see their children in a structured learning setting. This makes open communication between school and home even more important.

To support teachers and families we’ve pulled together helpful tips and advice from the Positive About Numbers hackathons and combined them into a toolkit with easy-to-use learning resources for the classroom and home. The toolkit has lots of practical ways for teachers to start to address maths anxiety in their lessons, alongside ideas to engage parents and carers with their children’s maths development at home too.

Working together, we really can inspire children to be positive about numbers from an early age.

Please see more details on #Positiveaboutnumbers here, and download a free toolkit with some great ideas for teachers that brings together tips and learnings from the teachers who contributed to the Positive About Numbers hackathon events.

[1] Data sources: Skills for Life 2011PIAAC 2014; National Numeracy YouGov Survey 2014

‘Early Number Sense: Helping at Home’ video series – your thoughts!

I passionately believe in the Early Number Sense Helping at Homeimportance of children’s early maths experiences. My training and resources are designed to help children become fluent with small quantities, develop counting skills and learn to reason mathematically.

In my work supporting schools, teachers often comment on how great it would be to show parents how they can best support their children in maths at home. Parents might, for example, teach their children to count to 100. However, skills which are more predictive of children’s long-term success, like the ability to subitize small quantities, have not been developed. This is where I can help.

Over the 2019 summer holiday, I plan to make four YouTube videos to show parents how they can best support their children’s early mathematical development. This series of videos will be called Early Number Sense: Helping at Home. Each video will be approximately 2 minutes long, explaining key principles and giving lots of practical ideas for exploring maths at home. The video titles are Developing Counting Skills, Recognising Quantities, Maths Around Us and Playing With Maths. They will be available on my soon-to-be-established YouTube channel and compiled on a new page at

I want these free videos to be as good as possible and reach as many parents as possible; for that I am seeking your help. Firstly, please pass this information on to your headteacher or EYFS leader. Also, I would be so grateful if you would FILL IN THIS SHORT QUESTIONNAIRE to tell me what I can do to make the videos as effective and user-friendly as possible. All ideas are welcome!

I have recently been running an innovation project with NCETM Maths Hub NW3 – the work group participants suggested that they would use the videos in their ‘meet the parents’ events in September and share the videos on their school websites. I will explain how this can be done once the videos have been created.

I can’t wait to get your thoughts and ideas about this project. Again, please feed your thoughts through to me via this short questionnaire.

Many thanks and have a great summer – Gareth

Click here for information about arranging Early Number Sense training at your school.

I See Problem-Solving for LKS2 and KS1 – update 1!

After completing I See Problem-Solving – UKS2, I spent some time before Christmas extending my free resources for Early Number Sense and creating some free resources for visualising multiplication. Now it’s time for the next big project – writing I See Problem-Solving – LKS2 and I See Problem-Solving – KS1!

I’ve decided to write both resources simultaneously. Trialling the tasks takes so long, I thought was better to get going on both resources now. This will mean I can keep sending out sample resources to be trialled, keep making improvements to both and hopefully, overall, complete the I See Problem-Solving trilogy sooner! So far I have come up with loads of draft ideas for both resources in each curriculum area:

Soon I will start creating the tasks themselves. I’m going to start with tasks in addition and subtraction, multiplication and fractions. The idea is that the pre-task steps will help children to learn the sub-skills for answering the main task, making the activities accessible for all. Then there will be reasoning tasks and extensions for deepening learning. Expect lots of visual, thought-provoking mathematics!

Example tasks will be sent for trialling to people on my trial resources list for KS1 and LKS2: expect the first email mid-February. It helps so much when people tell me what they like about the sample tasks and what can be improved. I’m still very busy with my teaching and training commitments, so if I’m a bit delayed that’s why!

Once all the trialling is done, hopefully the finished product will help teachers to do something that I always found hard: systematically teach problem-solving skills to children. I’m mega-excited about what can be achieved.

I See Reasoning – KS1 and I See Reasoning – LKS2 are designed to help teachers build reasoning into daily maths lessons.

Learning to Problem-Solve: number sequences and negative numbers

This is the first in a series of blog posts about how to systematically teach problem-solving skills using I See Problem-Solving, outworking the EEF research (recommendation 3) about using rich problems to learn mathematics.

Here’s the task that the class were given part-way through the lesson:

Before we get to this point, I want to break down the sub-steps involved in answering this question. First, a little pre-teach group are given this open task to bring back some prior learning:

Then we show the first part of the question that we are building up towards answering and these three example sequences. The children calculate (or spot) the first and then the second negative number in each sequence:

Now the children have a go at this short task. They identify that -4 is the second negative number in the first two sequences. I explain that, when writing the first two sequences, I actually started from -4 and added in equal steps, rather than starting from the positive number and subtracting (which would be more akin to trial and error):

Now the children are equipped to deal with the task. We work to find all the possible answers, noting that the sequence must decrease by more than 3 but less than 7. There ‘support’ prompt for children who need help, and some children also attempt the ‘explain’ or ‘extend’ tasks:

The free I See Problem-Solving Worked Example is used to show the three possible solutions. The following day, we pick up on a few misconceptions and look for ways to become more efficient, including looking at the example above and considering how we could add a multiple of 4 and 5 rather than the repeated adding.

I’m trying to make problem-solving accessible for all children, whilst ensuring that every child is challenged. I hope you find I See Problem-Solving super-helpful. The LKS2 and KS1 versions are in production!

Also in this series:
Equals Means Same As
Sum of the Digits Place Value Challenge

Learning to Problem-Solve: sum of the digits

This is the second in a series of blog posts about how to systematically teach problem-solving skills using I See Problem-Solving, outworking the EEF research (recommendation 3) about using rich problems to learn mathematics.

When children have a really secure understanding of place value, I love using sum of the digit challenges. Here’s the task we’re coming to later:

The build-up focuses on the meaning of the sum of the digits. We start by ordering 74, 312, 214 & 47, and identifying how many digits in each number. Then we work out the sum of the digits for each, noting that the largest number, 312, had the smallest digit sum. To consolidate this skill, we have a go at this:

We also find numbers where the sum of the digits is 8. Example numbers that the children come up with include 53, 44000, 123500 and we even get an infinity sign for repeated zeros! Next, a quick recap on finding multiples:

After this, we are into the main task (number with sum of digits of 13, multiple of 4). Discussions were held about where to start: listing the multiples of 4, or finding all the 2-digit numbers with a sum of the digits of 13? The key question, it was decided was ‘which narrows down the possible answers more?’ Once the answer was found (76) it’s onto the explain and extend tasks:


We also made the point that, for the example above, we don’t need to cross out those beautiful workings out!

I’m trying to make problem-solving accessible for all children, whilst ensuring that every child is challenged. I hope you find I See Problem-Solving super-helpful. The LKS2 and KS1 versions are in production!

Also in this series:
Equals Means Same As Task
Number Sequences and Negative Numbers

Learning to Problem-Solve: equals means same as

This is the third in a series of blog posts about how to systematically teach problem-solving skills using I See Problem-Solving, outworking the EEF research (recommendation 3) about using rich problems to learn mathematics.

I’m in Y5, building up to a task which requires children to understand the meaning of the =, < and > signs. To help model this idea, I show the children an image that they may have seen in KS1 from the Early Number Sense I See Maths page: at first the circles are white; then we see them coloured red and blue:

A range of other visual representations are used to show equivalence, including the image below to represent 4×3=7+5:

And this one to show 4×3>7+3:

Then the children write part-number sentences using different operations that are equal to 8, 10 and 12. They are positioned on the correct board. After that, children move the statements to make balancing number sentences, and sentences using the < & > signs:

Now we are ready for the main task. The support feature gives a clue: start by thinking about where to position the 8. Some children progress to the explain task, spotting different mistakes:

There is a super-challenging extend task that some children will get to tomorrow. We continue to model = as balance using scales and Numicon.

I’m trying to make problem-solving accessible for all children, whilst ensuring that every child is challenged. I hope you find I See Problem-Solving super-helpful. The LKS2 and KS1 versions are in production!

Also in this series:
Number Sequences and Negative Numbers
Sum of the Digits Place Value Challenge