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AN INTERVENTION STUDY OF FIFTH GRADE STUDENTS

IN TAIWAN

ABSTRACT. Two classes (one experimental and one control) in a public elementary

school located in southern Taiwan participated in this study. Number sense activities were

conducted in the experimental class as supplementary teaching materials, while the control

class followed the standard mathematics curriculum. Data indicate that there are statisti-

cally significant differences between pretest and posttest (pretest and retention-test) scores

for the experimental and control classes at the 0.01 level. The scores for the experimental

class increased 44% after instruction (the mean score went from 12.35 to 17.81), while the

scores for the control class increased only 10% after instruction (the mean score went from

11.29 to 12.42). Compared to the control class, the experimental class made much more

progress on number sense tests. Results indicate that students in the teaching class (not

including the students in the low level) advanced in their use of number sense strategies

when responding to interview questions. The data demonstrate that the teaching of number

sense activities, executed in the experimental class, is effective in developing children’s

number sense. Furthermore, the results of retention demonstrate that the students’ learning

was meaningful and significant.

KEY WORDS: benchmarks, control class, estimation, experimental class, number sense

topic in international mathematics curricula (Anghileri, 2000; Australian

Education Council, 1991; Cockcroft, 1982; Japanese Ministry of Educa-

tion, 1989; Markovits & Sowder, 1994; McIntosh, Reys, Reys, Bana & Far-

rel, 1997; National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), 1989,

2000; National Research Council, 1989). The Curriculum and Evaluation

Standards for School Mathematics highlighted that the teaching of number

sense is an essential goal of a school’s mathematics curriculum. Further-

more, the Number and Operations Standard of Principles and Standards

for School Mathematics (PSSM) (NCTM, 2000) states that “central to this

Standard is the development of number sense” (p. 32).

Over the past decade, several research studies in Taiwan have focused

on fractional concepts and children’s conceptions of numbers (Lin, 1989;

© 2003 National Science Council, Taiwan. Printed in the Netherlands.

116 D.-C. YANG

Ning, 1992), but research related to number sense has received little at-

tention. During the past two years, due to its emphasis in the NCTM

Standards, number sense has stimulated a growing amount of attention

and research in Taiwan. There is currently an important mathematics edu-

cational revolution in Taiwan. The guidelines for a Nine-Year Joint Math-

ematics Curricula Plan (Ministry of Education in Taiwan, 2000) stresses

that the learning and teaching of mathematics should highlight meaning-

ful connections with real life. The new guidelines for the mathematics

curricula plan and number sense both focus on meaningful learning. If

important reforms of mathematics education in Taiwan are to be made, the

development of number sense should be integrated into the mathematics

curriculum.

The purpose of this study was to report the results of an intervention

study conducted on Taiwanese fifth graders. The related research question

is:

Can number sense be fostered by appropriate teaching?

BACKGROUND

Number sense refers to a person’s general understanding of numbers and

operations and the ability to handle daily-life situations that include num-

bers. This includes the ability to develop useful, flexible, and efficient

strategies (i.e., mental computation or estimation) for handling numeri-

cal problems (Howden, 1989; McIntosh, Reys & Reys, 1992; Reys, 1994;

Reys & Yang, 1998; Sowder, 1992a, 1992b; Treffers, 1991; Yang, 2002a,

2002b).

Since number sense has been an important topic in mathematics educa-

tion, it has produced much research and discussion among mathematics

educators, cognitive psychologists, researchers, teachers, and mathematics

curricula developers (Howden, 1989; Greeno, 1991; Markovits & Sowder,

1994; McIntosh et al., 1992; NCTM, 1989, 2000; Reys, 1994; Reys &

Yang, 1998; Sowder, 1992a, 1992b; Yang, 2002a, 2002b). The researcher

generalized the above research reports and defined the number sense com-

ponents as following:

(1) Understanding the basic number meanings: This implies making sense

of numbers and developing a conceptual understanding of numbers.

TEACHING AND LEARNING NUMBER SENSE 117

pare numbers (whole numbers, fractions, decimals, and so on), to

order numbers correctly, and to recognize the density of numbers.

(3) Using benchmarks appropriately: It includes the ability to develop and

flexible use the benchmarks, such as 1, 1/2, 100, and so on, in different

situations.

(4) Understanding the relative effect of operations on numbers: It includes

the ability to identify how the different operations affect the result of

numerical problems.

(5) Developing different strategies appropriately and assessing the rea-

sonableness of an answer: This implies developing different strategies

(i.e., estimation, mental computation) to solve problems appropriately

and knowing that the result is reasonable.

The above five number sense components constitute the basis for this

study.

A major reform of Taiwanese mathematics curriculum standards from

grade 1 to 9 has been underway since 2001. In 2000, the Guidelines for

a 9-Year Joint Curricula Plan (Guidelines (Ministry of Education in Tai-

wan, 2000)) was released and covered all subjects, including mathematics.

Number sense has been considered an important topic in school mathemat-

ics curriculum (Anghileri, 2000; Japanese Ministry of Education, 1989;

NCTM, 1989, 2000; National Research Council, 1989). However, the topic

of “number sense” has not been integrated into the new mathematics cur-

ricula. If significant improvements in mathematics are to be made in Tai-

wan, the development of number sense should be considered as an impor-

tant topic in the new curricula.

The new Guidelines publication does not provide a standard national

policy for the teaching and learning of number sense. However, the new

standards do emphasize that mathematics teaching and learning should

focus on making connections between mathematics and daily life situa-

tions. Significantly, the goals of the Guidelines for mathematics curricula

and the spirit of the development of number sense are consistent. Even

though it lacks a clear policy on the teaching and learning of number sense,

the Guidelines emphasizes many of the fundamental principles of number

sense.

Several research projects ( Cobb, Wood, Yackel, Nicholls, Wheatly, Tri-

gatti & Perlwitz, 1991; Treffers, 1991; Warrington & Kamii, 1998) have

118 D.-C. YANG

more likely to develop number concepts than students who receive in-

struction focusing on the development of standard written algorithms and

computational proficiency. Several studies (Anghileri, 2000; Markovits &

Sowder, 1994; Yang, 2002b; Yang & Reys, 2001a, 2001b) have demon-

strated the effectiveness of instruction designed to promote number sense.

The study of Cramer, Post & delMas (2002) showed that students in the

RNP can develop fractional number sense because “they spent their time

interacting with fraction ideas in multiple ways and were provided ex-

tended periods of time to develop an understanding of the meaning of

symbols” (p. 140). Yang’s study (2002a, 2002b) further demonstrated that

sixth graders’ number sense can be developed through process-oriented

teaching models.

M ETHOD

Sample

A public school located in a city in southern Taiwan was selected to partic-

ipate in this study. Two classes (an experimental class and a control class)

were studied. Number sense activities were conducted in the experimental

class as supplementary teaching materials, while the control class followed

the standard mathematics curriculum. The school, which comprised about

3000 students, serves children from diverse areas. The students in the study

come from families with a wide range of occupations, incomes, and edu-

cational levels. The experimental class consisted of 37 students (20 boys

and 17 girls), and the control class consisted of 38 students (20 boys and

18 girls).

Based on the students’ performance on the pretest, students in each

class were divided into the following three levels: High – top 10%; Middle

– 40–60%; Low – bottom 10%. Two students were randomly selected from

each level and interviewed before instruction, after instruction, and four

months after the study. Therefore, the sample consisted of 12 students, in-

cluding the low- (TL12, CL12), middle- (TM12, CM12), and high- (TH12,

CH12) level students.

Instructional Activities

This study defined the five number sense components based on the existing

number sense related research reports and documents as described earlier.

The instructional activities were designed according to the above number

sense framework. Five units of number sense activities were designed for

TEACHING AND LEARNING NUMBER SENSE 119

the use of the teacher. Each unit included 5 lessons. For example, one of

the estimation lesson was as following:

1. (a) Please estimate the area and perimeter of the playground in our

school.

Explain how you reached your answer.

(b) Estimate how many students can be contained in our school’s play-

ground. Explain how you reached your answer.

Assessment Instruments

Assessment instruments included paper-and-pencil tests and interviews.

of which used the “Number Sense Rating Scale (NSRS)” designed by Hsu

et al. (2001). The test items in the NSRS based on the related research

studies McIntosh et al. (1992, 1997). The NSRS was given in multiple

choice format and included 37 items. The reliability test of internal consis-

tency for the NSRS was 0.889. The test-retest reliability coefficient for the

NSRS was 0.894 at the 0.01 level. The NSRS also has high content validity,

specialist validity, and construct validity (p. 368). The test was given for

a period of about 35 min. There are clear explanation about NSRS in the

study of Hsu, Yang & Li (2001).

terview questions were designed by the researcher. All of the three tests

used the same items. Each interview included 15 questions designed to

investigate whether or not students could effectively use the five number

sense components as described in the number sense framework. Students

were given as much time as they needed to respond to each question,

and each interview lasted about 60 min. All interviews were video-taped

and later transcribed. The schedule for instructional units and assessment

instruments is presented in Table I.

Analysis

The NSRS included 37 items. Each item was given 1 point if correct,

no point if incorrect. No partial credit was awarded. Therefore, the total

possible score for the test is 37 points.

Interview. The students’ responses were examined and sorted. In an

effort to identify the different strategies used by students, each response

was coded (as correct or incorrect) according to one of the following three

categories:

120 D.-C. YANG

TABLE I

Schedule for instructions and assessments

Date

02/01/01–08/30/01 Review the related papers and design the number sense project

08/30/01–09/08/01 Pretest and pre-interview for both Exp- and Con-class

09/10/01–12/31/01 Number sense activities integrated into Exp-class

01/01/02–01/18/02 Posttest and post-interview for both Exp- and Con-class

01/19/02–02/17/02 Winter break

02/18/02–06/01/02 No number sense activities were integrated into classes

06/01/02–06/12/02 Retention-test and retention interview for Exp- and Con-class

of number sense (i.e., benchmarks, number magnitude, relative effect

of operations on numbers).

• Rule based – applied the rules of standard written algorithms but was

unable to go beyond the direct application rule in the explanation.

• Could not explain – despite probes and queries by the interviewer,

clear explanations could not be obtained.

The researcher and the teacher used the transcripts to categorize re-

sponses to each correct or incorrect answer. Another teacher served as

second coder by using the same transcripts and categorizing the responses

independently. These initial reviews produced categorization agreement on

more than 90% of the students’ responses. The remaining responses were

reexamined and discussed by both coders until a consensus was reached.

THE M ATHEMATICS C LASS ?

and establishing a classroom environment that encourages meaningful dis-

cussion, exploration, thinking, and reasoning is the best way for students

to develop number sense. Several research studies (Anghileri, 2000; Reys,

1994; Fraivillig, 2001) further supported the idea that the effective teaching

of mathematics should focus on the learning process. This process not only

highlights small-group problem solving and whole class discussions to de-

velop mathematical thinking and reasoning, but also encourages students

to defend, query, and prove their ideas. In order to effectively help children

TEACHING AND LEARNING NUMBER SENSE 121

ing model (Figure 1) to help the teacher effectively integrate number sense

activities into mathematics class.

122 D.-C. YANG

R ESULT

Table II reports the results of mean scores (correct percent), standard devi-

ations, and t-test results for the experimental class and the control class.

The data indicate that there are statistically significant differences be-

tween pretest and posttest (pretest and retention-test) scores for both

classes. However, the scores for the experimental class increased 44% after

instruction (the mean score went from 12.35 to 17.81), while the scores

for the control class increased only 10% after instruction (the mean score

went from 11.29 to 12.42). Compared to the control class, the experimental

class made much more progress on number sense tests. This indicates that

the teaching of number sense is highly effective. The retention test results

further indicated that the teaching experiment was meaningful.

Tables III and IV report the results of students’ responses in the experi-

mental class and the control class on pre-, post-, and retention-interviews.

The results indicate that students in the teaching class (except for the

students in the low level) progressed much more in their use of number

sense strategies when responding to interview questions. The results of the

retention-interview further show that students’ learning was meaningful

and therefore long-lasting. However, students’ responses in the control

class did not advance in the use of number sense strategies after the in-

struction. In order to highlight the differences in the development and use

of number sense strategies between the experimental class and the control

class, several interview questions were presented before instruction, after

instruction, and four month after the study.

TABLE II

The mean scores (correct percent), standard deviations, and t-tests results of

number sense pretest, posttest, and retention tests for both experimental and

control classes

Exp-classes Posttest 17.81 (48.1%) 5.29

(N = 37) Pretest 12.35 (33.4%) 4.83 −13.218∗

Retention 19.08 (51.2%) 5.46

Pretest 11.29 (30.5%) 4.09 −3.775∗

Con-classes Posttest 12.42 (33.6%) 3.94

(N = 38) Pretest 11.29 (30.5%) 4.09 −4.734∗

Retention 13.23 (35.9%) 4.35

TEACHING AND LEARNING NUMBER SENSE 123

TABLE III

The results of students’ responses in the experimental class (and control class) on pre-,

post-, and retention-interviews

(CH1) (CH2) (CM1) (CM2) (CL1) (CL2)

Pre-interview

Correct

NS-based 6 (9) 4 (5) 4 (4) 2 (3) 2 (3) 2 (3)

Rule-based 2 (4) 5 (3) 2 (0) 3 (1) 0 (0) 0 (1)

Couldn’t Ex 1 (0) 2 (1) 2 (2) 2 (2) 4 (2) 3 (2)

Incorrect

NS-based 0 (0) 0 (0) 0 (0) 0 (0) 0 (0) 0 (0)

Rule-based 0 (2) 0 (3) 0 (4) 2 (4) 0 (3) 0 (3)

Couldn’t Ex 6 (0) 4 (3) 7 (5) 6 (5) 9 (7) 10 (6)

Post-interview

Correct

NS-based 15 (10) 11 (6) 10 (5) 12 (5) 5 (3) 5 (3)

Rule-based 0 (4) 3 (3) 2 (3) 1 (2) 0 (3) 0 (4)

Couldn’t Ex 0 (0) 0 (4) 0 (2) 0 (2) 1 (1) 3 (1)

Incorrect

NS-based 0 (0) 0 (0) 0 (0) 0 (0) 0 (0) 0 (0)

Rule-based 0 (1) 0 (0) 1 (2) 1 (2) 1 (3) 0 (1)

Couldn’t Ex 0 (0) 1 (2) 2 (3) 1 (4) 8 (5) 7 (6)

Retention-interview

Correct

NS-based 15 (11) 12 (6) 11 (5) 12 (4) 5 (3) 5 (2)

Rule-based 0 (3) 1 (3) 0 (0) 2 (1) 0 (4) 1 (5)

Couldn’t Ex 0 (1) 1 (4) 1 (5) 0 (3) 4 (3) 2 (2)

Incorrect

NS-based 0 (0) 0 (0) 0 (0) 0 (0) 0 (0) 0 (0)

Rule-based 0 (0) 0 (0) 0 (1) 0 (2) 0 (0) 1 (0)

Couldn’t Ex 0 (0) 1 (2) 3 (4) 1 (5) 6 (5) 6 (6)

2. NS- (rule)-based represents number sense- (rule)-based method; Couldn’t Ex

means couldn’t give clear explanation.

in the Exp- and Con-class on the pre-, post-, and retention-interview about

question 1. This question focused on investigating the students’ conceptual

understanding of fractions. Data indicated that only one student could use

124 D.-C. YANG

TABLE IV

Results from fifth grade students’ responses to the following problem:

1. Two same sized watermelons were shared by five students equally. How many

watermelons can each student have? Why?

(1) Greater than a half of a watermelon

(2) Equal to 15 of a watermelon

(3) Equal to 25 of a watermelon

(4) Greater than 2.5 watermelons

Exp-A Con-B

Correct

NS-based 1 (17%) 6 (100%) 6 (100%) 2 (33%) 3 (50%) 3 (50%)

Rule-based 2 (33%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 1 (17%) 1 (17%)

Couldn’t explain 1 (17%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 1 (17%) 1 (17%) 1 (17%)

Incorrect

NS-based 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)

Rule-based 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 1 (17%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)

Couldn’t explain 2 (33%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 2 (33%) 1 (17%) 1 (17%)

2. Each class had six students who were interviewed.

interview of TH2):

R: Can you tell me the answer and your reasons about question 1?

TH2: One watermelon was shared by five persons, so each one got 15 wa-

termelon. Since there are two watermelons, each person can get 25

watermelon.

TH2 gave the correct answer and reasonable explanations, so this response

was coded as Number sense-based method. Two (33%) students gave the

correct answer, by using the rule-based method. For example, (Pre-inter-

view of TM2):

R: Can you tell me why the answer is 25 ?

TM2: Because 2 ÷ 5 = 25 , so the answer is 2 ÷ 5 = 25 .

R: Can you explain it in a different way?

TM2: I don’t know.

TEACHING AND LEARNING NUMBER SENSE 125

Since TM2 used the rule “2 ÷ 5 = 25 ”, but could not give an explanation,

this response was coded as “ruled-based”. Another student produced the

correct answer but also couldn’t explain it (Pre-interview of TH1):

TH1: The answer is 25 .

R: Can your tell me your reasons?

TH1: I don’t know how to explain it.

This was coded as “correct and could not explain.”

Two students gave incorrect answers and also could not explain them

(Pre-interview of TL1):

TL1: The answer is 15 .

R: Can your tell me your reasons?

TL1: I don’t know.

During the post- and retention-interview, all six students in the exper-

imental class could use the number sense-based method to explain their

reasoning. In addition, four of the six students could support their answers

with pictorial representations. For example, (Post-interview of TM2):

R: Can you tell me your answer and reasons about question 1?

TM2: As you can see the picture, each watermelon can be divided into 5

parts. Each person can have 15 of one watermelon. Since there are

two watermelons, each one can get 25 watermelons.

In Con-class, the students’ responses showed not much difference on the

pre-, post-, and retention-interviews. Two (33%) students used the number

sense-based method to answer question 1 on the pre-interview, however,

only three (50%) students could apply the number sense strategy to explain

their reasons on the post- and retention-interviews. One student was able

to give the correct answer, yet could not explain why on the pre-, post-, and

retention-interviews. For example, (pre-, post-, and retention-interviews of

CM2):

R: Can you tell me your answer and reasons about question 1?

CM2: 25 . I don’t know how to explain it.

One student gave an incorrect answer on pre-, post-, and retention-inter-

views. CL2 answered: “ 15 ” and “I don’t know how to explain it.”

The data indicate that students in the Exp-class more frequently used

number sense strategies during the post and retention-interviews (100% vs.

17%), and were more successful than students in the control class (100%

vs. 50%).

Table V presents a summary of the results from fifth grader’s responses

for question 6. This question focused on investigating whether or not stu-

dents could use benchmarks. It is a more challenging question than the

126 D.-C. YANG

TABLE V

Results from fifth grade students’ responses to the following problem:

6. Without calculating, select the best estimate for 45 + 67 ? Why?

(1) 12 (2) 10 (3) 2 (4) 1 (5) Without calculating can’t find the answer

Correct

NS-based 0 (0%) 3 (50%) 4 (66%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)

Rule-based 1 (17%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 1 (17%) 2 (33%) 2 (33%)

Couldn’t explain 0 (0%) 1 (17%) 0 (0%) 1 (17%) 1 (17%) 1 (17%)

Incorrect

NS-based 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)

Rule-based 3 (50%) 1 (17%) 1 (17%) 2 (33%) 1 (17%) 1 (17%)

Couldn’t explain 2 (33%) 1 (17%) 1 (17%) 2 (33%) 2 (33%) 2 (33%)

above question. The data indicate that no student in either class could use

the benchmark on the pre-interview. One student in each class applied the

rule-based method. For example, (pre-interview of TH2):

R: Can you tell me the answer for question 6 and your reasoning?

TH2: I think the answer is 2.

R: Can you tell me your reasons?

TH2: Because

4 6 28 30 58 23

+ = + = =1 ,

5 7 35 35 35 35

the answer is close to 2.

R: Can you do it by another way?

TH2: (Hesitate for a while!) I don’t know.

R: How did you know to find the sum of two fractions with different

denominators?

TH2: I learned it at private school.

This kind of question (find the sum of two fractions with different de-

nominators) is not taught until the seventh grade in the Taiwanese new

mathematics curricula. However, TH2 had learned this way at a private

school.

Three (50%) students in the Exp-class and two (33%) students in the

Con-class gave incorrect answers based on rule-methods. For example,

(Pre-interview of TH1):

TEACHING AND LEARNING NUMBER SENSE 127

R: Why? Please tell me your method.

TH1: Because 6 + 4 is equal to 10.

R: Can you do it another way?

TH1: (Hesitating for a while!) I don’t know.

Or (Pre-interview of CM1)

CM1: 1.

R: Why? Can you tell me your reasons?

CM1: 4

5

+ 67 = 10

12

, hence the answer is close 1.

R: Can you do it another way?

CM1: (Shaking her head!) I don’t know.

These methods were coded as incorrect and rule-based. Two students in

each class gave incorrect answers and no explanations. For example, (Pre-

interview of TL1):

TL1: The answer is about 1.

R: Can you tell me your reasons?

TL1: I guess.

Or (Pre-interview of CL2)

CL2: I don’t know.

Three (50%) students in the post-interview and four (66%) students in the

retention-interview used benchmarks to solve this question. For example,

(Post-interview of TH1):

TH1: 2.

R: Can you tell me your reasons?

TH1: Because 45 is less than 1 and near 1, 6

7

is also less than 1 and near 1.

Therefore, the sum is about 2.

Or (Post-interview of TH2)

TH2: The answer is 2.

R: Why? Can you tell me your reasons?

TH2: Since 45 is near 1 and 67 is also near 1, the sum is near 2.

R: Can you do it by different way?

TH2: I can find the common denominator and compute it.

R: Can you tell me what’s the difference between these methods.

TH2: I can save time, so I don’t need to spend a lot of time to do complex

computation. It is also more meaningful and useful to me.

However, no student in the control class could use 1 as a benchmark. In the

Con-class, two (33%) students in the post- and retention-interview applied

128 D.-C. YANG

TABLE VI

Results from fifth grade students’ responses to the following problem

7 or 7 is larger? Why?

8. Without calculating, which one 10 12

7 7

(1) 10 (2) 12 (3) same (4) Without calculating can’t find the answer

Exp-A Con-B

Correct

NS-based 1 (17%) 4 (66%) 4 (66%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)

Rule-based 1 (17%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 2 (33%) 4 (66%) 4 (66%)

Couldn’t explain 1 (17%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 2 (33%) 1 (17%) 1 (17%)

Incorrect

NS-based 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)

Rule-based 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)

Couldn’t explain 3 (50%) 2 (33%) 2 (33%) 2 (33%) 1 (17%) 1 (17%)

written algorithms. They found the common denominator first and got the

exact answer, then decided on the answer. Two (33%) students continued

to use the same method before and after instruction. For example, (Post-

interview and retention-interview of CL2):

CL2: I don’t know.

As shown in Table VI, students in the Exp-class were not only more

successful on the post- and retention-interviews than the pre-interview in

applying benchmarks (50% vs. 0%) and (66% vs. 0%), but they also used

benchmarks more frequently than students in the Con-class on the post-

and retention-interviews (50% vs. 0%) and (66% vs. 0%).

Table VI presents data from the fifth grader’ responses for the Exp-

7

and Con-class on comparing fractional size: without calculating, is 10 or

7

12

is larger? The fifth graders’ mathematics textbooks in Taiwan do not

teach children to find a least common denominator or cross-product proce-

dure for comparing fractions. The instruction for the Exp-class focused on

developing conceptual understanding through pictorial and verbal repre-

sentations. The textbooks used in the Con-class taught children to compare

fractions by using concrete materials. For example, when comparing 38 and

5

12

, the teacher gave students 24 pieces of chips as a unit and taught them

to find the pieces of 38 and 12

5

. 24 × 38 = 9; 24 × 12

5

= 10, therefore, 12

5

is

larger because it equals 10 pieces of chips.

On the pre-interview, one student (17%) in the Exp-class responded:

“A pizza was cut into 10 pieces and the other pizza was cut into 12 pieces.

TEACHING AND LEARNING NUMBER SENSE 129

Each piece in the 10 pieces group is larger than in the 12 piece group, so

7 7

10

is larger than 12 .” This was coded as number sense-based. No student

in the Con-class could apply a number sense-based method. One student

in the Con-class memorized the rule but was unable to explain his reason.

For example, (Pre-interview of CH1):

R: Can you tell me your answer and reasoning for question 8?

CH1: Since the numerators are the same, and one of the denominators is

smaller, then that fraction is larger.

R: Why is the fraction larger, if the denominator is smaller?

CH1: I don’t know. I memorized the rule I learned in mathematics class.

One student in each class gave the correct answer but they could not pro-

vide an explanation. This was coded as correct and could not explain.

Three (50%) students in the Exp- and two (33%) students in the Con-

class gave incorrect answers and incorrect explanations. For example, (Pre-

interview of TL2):

7 7

TL1: 12 > 10 .

R: Why? Can you tell me your reason?

TL1: Because the numerators are same, I compared the denominators.

7 7

The 12 is larger than 10, hence 12 > 10 .

Or (Pre-interview of CL2)

CL2: I don’t know.

On the post- and retention-interviews, four (66%) students in the Exp-

class applied the number sense methods. One used a meaningful way and

three used pictorial representations to help solve the problem. For example,

(Post-interview of TH1 and TM2):

R: Can you tell me your answer and reasoning for question 8?

TH1: A pizza was cut into 10 pieces and another was cut into 12 pieces.

Each piece in the 10 piece group is larger than in the 12 piece group,

7 7

so 10 is larger than 12 .

Or

7 7

TM2: You see the shaded area of 10

is larger than the shaded area of 12

,

7 7

then 10 > 12 .

7 7

However, no student in the Con-class could compare 10 and 12 in a

meaningful way. Four (66%) students in the Con-class applied rule-based

methods. For example, (Post-interview of CH1 and CH2):

CH1: Since the numerators are the same, I only need to compare denom-

inators. The fraction that has the smaller denominator is the larger

fraction.

130 D.-C. YANG

CH1: I don’t know. I memorized the rule I learned in mathematics class.

Two (33%) students in the Exp-class and one (17%) student in the Con-

class still could not compare fractions with the same numerators. For ex-

ample, (Post-interview of CL2):

CL2: I don’t know.

Or (Post-interview of TL1)

7 7

TL1: 12

> 10

, because 12 is larger than 10.

These responses were coded as incorrect and could not explain.

In examining the summary of students’ responses, we found that stu-

dents in the Exp-class advanced in their use of number sense strategies

on the post- and retention-interviews as compared to the pre-interview

(66% vs. 0%). The data also indicated that students in the Exp-class were

more successful in using number sense-based methods than students in the

Con-class on the post- and retention-interviews (66% vs. 0%).

In summary, the data indicates that there was an apparent change in

the Exp-class after instruction and that students’ number sense ability im-

proved greatly after they were provided with opportunities to explore num-

bers, operations, and their relationships, and to communicate their ideas

in a conducive learning environment. The post-interviews revealed that

students’ responses reflected number sense strategies. Furthermore, the

results of retention-interviews indicated that students’ learning was mean-

ingful and significant. Students’ responses in the Con-class in using num-

ber sense components reflected little change after instruction.

C ONCLUSION

Although this teaching experiment was implemented over only one se-

mester (about 4 and a half months) and limited to two classes from one

school, the improvement made by the fifth graders in the experimental

class is readily apparent. Though the generalizations of this study are lim-

ited due to the small sample size, the results do provide some important

and interesting findings, as follows:

1. Students’ performance on number sense group tests in both the Exp-

class and the Con-class indicated that there were statistically significant

differences for the scores on the post-tests and retention-tests as compared

with the pretests at the α = 0.01 level. However, the scores for the Exp-

class increased 44% after instruction (the mean score went from 12.35 to

TEACHING AND LEARNING NUMBER SENSE 131

17.81), while the scores for the control class increased only 10% after in-

struction (the mean score went from 11.29 to 12.42). This indicated that the

Exp-class made much more progress on number sense tests as compared

with the Con-class. These data demonstrate that the teaching of number

sense activities is effective and helpful in the development of students’

number sense.

2. In examining the individual interviews of students in the Exp-class

and Con-class on pre-, post-, and retention-interviews, the changes and

progress made by students in the Exp-class is apparent. Students in the

Exp-class were not only able to effectively use number sense strategies

after instruction, but they were also more successful than students in the

Con-class in using number sense strategies to solve problems on the post-

and retention-interviews. The interview results showed that these number

sense activities were effective in helping children develop their number

sense abilities. Furthermore, the results of the retention-interviews further

demonstrated that students’ learning in the Exp-class was meaningful and

therefore long-lasting.

The data from the interviews provide opportunities not only to bet-

ter understand students’ improvement in using number sense strategies,

but also to explore students’ thinking and comprehension of numbers and

operations.

3. There is a major difference between number sense activities designed

for this study and the mathematics textbooks used in Taiwanese classes.

The mathematics textbooks used for the fifth grade level do not teach stu-

dents to find a least common denominator or the cross-product procedure

for comparing fractions. The textbooks teach students to use a unit quantity

to order fractions. For example, when comparing 13 and 38 , the teacher gave

the students 24 pieces of chips as a unit and taught them to find how many

pieces are equivalent to 13 and 38 . The textbooks show that 24 × 13 = 8;

24 × 38 = 9, therefore, 38 is larger due to having 9 pieces of chips. In the

context of this situation, students knew how to order fractions when the

unit was given. However, they were unable to solve the problem if the unit

quantity was not given. On the contrary, the instruction for the Exp-class

focused on the development of conceptual understanding through pictorial

representations. The teacher in the Exp-class encouraged children to draw

diagrams to help them understand fractions and also encourage students to

represent fractions by verbal language. This result is consistent with the

study of Cramer et al. (2002).

4. The use of benchmarks for students in the Exp-class was much more

prevalent after instruction as compared with students in the control class.

The use of benchmarks is not introduced in the Taiwanese textbooks. The-

132 D.-C. YANG

For example, when students were asked to estimate: 45 + 67 , students in

the Exp-class knew to select the 1 as a benchmark to decide the answer,

but students in the Con-class were unable to use benchmarks to find the

answer.

In summary, this study demonstrates that students’ number sense can be

effectively developed through establishing a classroom environment that

encourages communication, exploration, discussion, thinking, and reason-

ing. The results of this research study confirm the earlier studies (Markovits

& Sowder, 1994; Yang, 2002a, 2002b; Yang & Reys, 2001a, 2001b) that

children’s number sense can be fostered through appropriate teaching. Fur-

thermore, the process-oriented teaching model practically applied in this

study not only supports the NCTM process standards and the guidelines for

a Nine-Year Joint Mathematics Curricula Plan, but also can be used as a

guide to help teachers implement the mathematics curriculum. In fact, this

teaching model provides an artifact that could go a long way toward help-

ing teachers actually embed these processes in their practice. The teaching

of number sense focuses on conceptual understanding. It directs children

to pursue meaningful learning. This further confirms the statement in the

Guidelines that students’ learning of mathematics should be meaningful.

From this research study, one can gather that well-designed instructional

lessons not only help children develop number sense, but actually promote

the development of critical thinking and reasoning about numbers and

operations.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Council in Taiwan with grant no. NSC 90-2521-S-415-001. Any opinions

expressed in here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the

views of the National Science Council in Taiwan.

The author gratefully acknowledges the help of teacher Miss Lin, a Tai-

wanese 5th grade teacher, without whose cooperation and teaching

skills this paper would not have resulted.

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National Chiayi University,

85, Wen Lung, Ming-Hsiung, 621,

Chiayi, Taiwan

E-mail: dcyang@ms21.hinet.net

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