Mathematics Teaching and Learning #1
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Thursday, 30 May 2013
Investigating Children’s Understanding
of Mathematical Ideas and Concepts:
Place Value
Written by Serena Gibson-Page

This paper reports on a student’s mathematical understandings of place value within the
whole number numeration system. It will investigate misconceptions based on theoretical
research and evaluate a Year Four student’s cognitive process of place value concepts in
relation to Baturo’s (2000) Numeration Model in conjunction with Jones, Thornton & Putt’s
(1994) Multidigit Number-sense Framework. The interview questions were employed from
Baturo & Cooper’s (2008) Developing mathematics understanding through cognitive
diagnostic assessment task. Assessment task 4A was selected as an appropriate diagnostic
assessment reflective of the current Australian National Curriculums Year 4 content
descriptors for number and place value with particular reference to recognise, represent and
order numbers to at least tens of thousands (ACMNA072) and apply place value to partition,
rearrange and regroup numbers to at least tens of thousands to assist calculations and solve
problems (ACMNA073) (ACARA, 2013).

The process of the investigation was a combination of what Baturo & Cooper (2008, p.2)
refer to as “scan” and “probe” type assessment. The student was presented with questions
that were structured in such a way with the aim of determining their thinking processes in
relation to the specific domain of whole number with the related discipline of place value
(Baturo & Cooper, 2008). These questions were offered in a one-to-one interview process,
allowing the researcher to gain a deeper insight into the students’ strengths and
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misconceptions of the chosen mathematical concept (Baturo & Cooper, 2008). This research
paper will analyse the results found accordingly.

Research literature denotes the importance of understanding place value within the number
system with explicit reference to foundational understandings of whole numbers as a
fundamental platform for mathematical numeration processes that apply to everyday
activities and functioning (Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, 2011; Baturo, 2002;
Cooper & Tomayko, 2011; Jones, Thornton, Putt, Hill, Mogill, Rich & Van Zoest, 1996).

The Multi-digit Number-Sense Framework (1994) outlines four key constructs that work
reciprocally with five distinct levels of thinking about place value (Jones et. al., 1996).
Counting, partitioning, grouping and number relationships constitutes as the four key
constructs within the framework (Jones et. al., 1996). The five levels of thinking move
between and through pre-place value (level 1), initial place value (level 2), developing place
value (level 3), extended place value (level 4) culminating at essential place value (level 5)
(Jones et. al., 1996). More recently, Baturo’s Numeration Model (2000) categorizes place
value thinking into three levels (Baturo, 2000). Level 1 is referred to as “baseline knowledge”
(Baturo, 2000, p101). It incorporates knowledge of position, base and order (Baturo, 2000).
Level 2 can be thought of as “linking knowledge” (Baturo, 2000, p.101) and involves
understandings about unitising and equivalence (Baturo, 2000). Finally, Level 3 which
Baturo (2000, p.101) has labelled “structural knowledge” encompasses additive structure,
reunitising and multiplicative structure (Baturo, 2000). It is within these complex cognitive
structures that students experience common misconceptions (AMSI, 2011; Baturo, 2002;
Boulton-Lewis & Halford, 1992; Jones et. al, 1996; Kamii, 1986).

Multiple research has resulted in substantiation of misconceptions experienced by students
when learning the complexities of place value (AMSI, 2011; Baturo, 2002; Boulton-Lewis &
Halford, 1992; Jones et. al, 1996; Kamii, 1986).

Such complexities are highlighted by key researches such as Baturo (1998, 2000, 2002);
Boulton-Lewis and Haldford (1992); Jones et. al. (1996) and Kamii, (1986) with particular
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reference to difficulties in understanding the bi-directionality of value in base 10 including
the additive and multiplicative nature within and across places, not considering zero as a
value, equivalence including unitising and finally difficulties with re-unitising processes.
Interview Analysis

Analysis of the diagnostic interview shows evidence of the student’s cognitive processes in
correlation to Baturo’s (2000) Numeration Model as well as Jones et. al. (1996) Multi-digit Number-
sense Framework and highlights some of the difficulties discussed previously that students often
experience when working with place value concepts (AMSI, 2011; Baturo, 2002; Boulton-Lewis
& Halford, 1992; Jones et. al, 1996; Kamii, 1986).
Question 1 invites the student to identify a number and translate the word into its symbolic
representation and correspondingly Question 2 asks the student to translate the numeric symbol into
word form (Baturo & Cooper, 2008). These questions are reflective of Baturo’s (2000) Level 1
thinking and provided the opportunity for the student to demonstrate their baseline knowledge
(Baturo, 2000). The student was mostly successful however, in Question 1(d) the student failed to
recognise the place value of the three and a result, misplaced it in the tens position instead of the
hundreds (Baturo & Cooper, 2008; Cooper & Tomayko, 2011) (Appendix A).
Question 3 challenges the students understanding of the semantic structure of ordering numbers
relevant to their place value (Baturo, 2000). This activity can be categorised into Baturo’s (2000)
Level 1of thinking as it personifies the understandings of position and order (Baturo, 2000)(Appendix
The student demonstrated knowledge of zeros cardinality as well as its positional value as a place
holder in Question 4 (AMSI, 2011; Baturo, 2000; Baturo & Cooper, 2008). This was exemplified
when the researcher first asked the student “How has the value changed in Question 4 (a)?” the
student replied “zero would just be taken off leaving 542” and again the researcher asked “How has
the value changed in Question 4 (b)?” and the student replied “it’s changed to thousands with the zero
in the hundreds” (Appendix A). For Question 5 the student was successful in seriating more than the
given numbers increasing amounts by 10 and 100 however, found it difficult decreasing the given
numbers by 10 and 100 (Appendix A). As a result, the students initial response was “It can’t be
changed” before quickly self-correcting writing an increased value of 5010 (Appendix A). The
researcher offered some assistance as a result of the student’s frustrations asking if they could perhaps
think of a strategy to assist in their thinking. The student attempted to implement a number line and
was almost successful in finding the solution however, instead of counting backwards by 1 at the tenth
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step she jumped back by 10 resulting in an incorrect number (Appendix A.). These results, show that
the student is operating within the Level 4 and Level 5 counting constructs of the Multi-digit Number-
sense Framework (1996) however, has not completely met all criteria (Jones et. al., 1996). The
student was unsuccessful in determining the digits that were less than the position and order of the
number given, Baturo (2000) refers to this as “Counting A” (p. 98). Sowder (as cited in Jones et.al,
1996) “emphasized that an understanding of number relationships (e.g, less than, more than) is basic
to number sense” (p. 312). Question 6 involved counting type B sequences in which the student was
required to determine the pattern for all sequences and reunitise the values for (b) and (d) (Baturo,
2000)(Appendix A). She did not in effect, complete this showing signs of difficulty in the super
unitising of thousands and sub unitising of hundreds (Baturo, 2000)(Appendix A).
Question 10 of the diagnostic assessment task is designed for students to demonstrate their ability and
understanding of equivalence and partitioning (Baturo & Cooper, 2008). This activity falls within the
Level 2 area of place value, linking knowledge and is signified by Baturo (2000) as a necessity in
order for students to advance into the third level of structural knowledge within the Numeration
Model (Baturo, 2000). The results showed that the student had some understanding of equivalence
however, found it difficult to process the value of (d) had not changed despite the numbers being
rearranged in terms of their place value (Baturo & Cooper, 2008; Baturo; 2000) (Appendix A). Baturo
and Cooper (2008) label this numeration process “regrouping” (p.12). This provides insight into the
operations and cognitive thinking of students within Level 2 and 3 of Baturo’s Numeracy Model
(2000) working interchangeably (Appendix A). During this exercise the student was provided with
MAB blocks which she set out with the correct number values. The researcher prompted her about
her thinking by asking “So what has happened to the hundreds value?” the student replied “It has
changed by one I mean one hundred” to which the researcher continued with “Where do you think the
one hundred could be?” the student answered with “In the ones place” the researcher then asked “So
what value should be in the tens place?” and the student replied with “This is wrong because there is a
five in the hundreds place not a four” followed by a request to move on (Appendix A). This
demonstration allowed the researcher to see the student’s misconceptions in her understanding of
equivalence and regrouping (Baturo & Cooper, 2008; Baturo, 2000). Consequently, the identification
of this area of difficulty lead to the planned implementation of a follow up activity to improve and
extend on the student’s conceptual understandings of Baturo’s (2000) Level 2 and 3 numeration
processes explicitly linked to equivalence.
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The Activity

In summary of the results of the diagnostic assessment task it is apparent that although the student has
a sound understanding of place value baseline knowledge, she is operating between a Level 1 and
Level 2 arena of Baturo’s Numeration Model (2000). Her understandings of equivalence, partitioning
and bi-directionality are underdeveloped and based on Baturo’s research and theory in order to
advance through the cognitive levels of thinking a student must have obtained a full understanding of
all previous processes (Baturo, 2000, 2002; Baturo & Cooper, 1998, 2008). Baturo (2000) states
“Equivalence and unitising (Level 2 linking knowledge) are shown as emerging from the notion of
base. These cognitions are dynamic in that one object is transformed to another through some
operation.” (p.102). She adds “Reunitising, additive structure and multiplicative structure (Level 3
structural knowledge) emerge from an amalgamation of Level 1 and Level 2 knowledge”. (Baturo,
2000, p. 102). In order to advance the students thinking, revisiting earlier concepts with regards to the
continuous and bi-directionality of the relationships between places would be highly beneficial
(Baturo, 2000, 2002; Baturo & Cooper, 1998). This can be achieved through re-introducing
manipulatives such as MAB blocks including place value mats and linking it with the appropriate use
of language (AMSI, 2011; Baturo, 2000, 2002; Baturo & Cooper, 1998; Boulton- Lewis & Halford,
1992; Van de Walle, Karp & Bay-Williams, 2013).
The following activity is a recommendation adapted from the research of Baturo & Cooper (1998),
Baturo (2000, 2002) and is supportive of current mathematical teaching practice noted by Van de
Walle et. al.(2013) alongside of AMSI (2011) and Baturo and Coopers (2008) research into the
cognitive processes of students in whole number within the Developing mathematics
understanding through cognitive diagnostic assessment tasks (2008).

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Year Level: Year 4
Prior Knowledge:

1. Recognise, model, represent and order numbers to at least 10 000 (ACMNA052)

2. Apply place value to partition, rearrange and regroup numbers to at least 10 000 to assist
calculations and solve problems (ACMNA053)

3. Recognise and explain the connection between addition and subtraction (ACMNA054)

4. Recall addition facts for single-digit numbers and related subtraction facts to develop
increasingly efficient mental strategies for computation(ACMNA055)

5. Recall multiplication facts of two, three, five and ten and related division facts (ACMNA056)

6. Represent and solve problems involving multiplication using efficient mental and written
strategies and appropriate digital technologies(ACMNA057)

I ntended Outcomes:

 Consolidate relationships between numbers in place value (bi-directionality) using base 10.
(Baturo & Cooper, 1998)
 Develop multiplicative and partitioning knowledge (x / :-) (Baturo & Cooper, 1998).
 Develop mental computation strategies for multiplication and division (Baturo & Cooper,

Necessary materials:
 MAB blocks including thousands, hundreds, tens and ones
 Place value mats
 Assortment of symbolic numbers to create numbers in the thousands (0-9)
 Calculators

How to use these activities:
Provide students with place value mats and MAB blocks. Draw a place value chart on the
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1. Using the 0-9 numerals place a number in the ones column and instruct students to recreate
amount using their MAB blocks.
2. Move the numeral to the left of the ones place shifting its position into the tens place value
column and ask students to do the same using their MAB blocks. Follow this by asking students
“has the value become larger or smaller?” “How much has the number increased by?” ask
them to represent the increase using their calculators.
3. Consolidate the increase of value in the left wards direction repeating the same process with
different numbers allowing students to see the increase (x10).
4. Ask students to predict what would happen if we moved the numeral to the right shifting places
from the tens column into the ones.
5. Move numeral and ask students to move their materials to the right. Discuss the change and
ask students questions such as “How much has the number decreased by?” Ask them to use
their calculator to represent this decrease in value.
6. Consolidate the inverse operation between left and right by repeating process a few times so
that students can see the bi-directionality of increase to the left by (x10) and decrease to the
right by (:-10).
7. Repeat this process for (x100/ :-100) and (x1000/ :-1000). Some further questions could be
“What will undo multiplication?” or “How has your value become larger or smaller between
this place and that place?” (Adapted from Baturo& Cooper, 1998).
Curriculum Link:

1. Recognise, represent and order numbers to at least tens of thousands (ACMNA072)

2. Apply place value to partition, rearrange and regroup numbers to at least tens of thousands to
assist calculations and solve problems (ACMNA073)

3. Recall multiplication facts up to 10 × 10 and related division facts (ACMNA075)

4. Develop efficient mental and written strategies and use appropriate digital technologies for
multiplication and for division where there is no remainder (ACMNA076)

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ACARA (2013). Year 4. Australian curriculum: Mathematics. Retrieved from:

Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (2011). Counting and place value: a guide for
teachers years F-4 number and algebra module 1. The improving mathematics
education in schools (TIMES) project. Retrieved from:

Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (2011). Using place value to write numbers: a
guide for teachers years 4-7 number and algebra module 5. The improving
mathematics education in schools (TIMES) project. Retrieved from:

Baturo, A. (2000). Construction of a numeration model: a theoretical analysis. In J. Bana &
A. Chapman, Mathematics education beyond 2000: Proceedings of the twenty-third
annual conference of the mathematics education research group of australasia
incorporated, (1), 95-103.

Baturo, A. (2002). Number sense, place value and “odometer” principle in decimal
numeration: adding 1 tenth and 1 hundredth. In A. Cockburn & E. Nardi (Eds.),
Proceedings 26
annual conference of the international group of psychology of
mathematics education (2), 65-72. Retrieved from:

Baturo, A. & Cooper, T. (1998). Construction of mulitplictive abstract schema for decimal-
number numeration. In: Proceeding of the 23
conference of the international group
for the psychology of mathematics education, 25-30 July 1999, Haifa. Retrieved from:
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Boulton-Lewis, G & Halford, G. (1992). The processing loads of young children’s and teachers’
representations of place value and implications for teaching. Mathematics education research
journal, 4(1), 1-23.

Cooper, L., & Tomayko, M. (2011). Understanding place value. Teaching children
mathematics, 17(9), 558-567.

Jones, G., Thornton, C., Putt, I., Hill, K., Mogill, A., Rich, B., & Van Zoest, L. (1996).
Multidigit number sense: a framework for instruction and assessment. Journal for
research in mathematics education, 27(3), 310-336.

Kamii, C. (1986). Place value: an explanation of its difficulty and educational implications
for the primary grades. Journal of research in childhood education, 1 (2), 75-86.