Mathematics is one of the school subjects that require logic and insight. It often happens that learners struggle to master the subject because it simply becomes too complicated. There are many books available on how to make Maths easier to enable children to understand it better.
However, I want to focus on a very simple mathematical symbol – the = (equals) sign. This symbol is neglected in the Foundation Phase. Learners are taught to read sums from left to right and to make groups. The = is often replaced by arrows and sums are presented as follows: 2 + 3 → gives you 5. Learners memorise these methods and symbols but show limited comprehension once they have to apply it.
Let’s look at an example: 3 + 4 = __ + 2. Learners who don’t fully understand the = will try to answer the sum from left to right: 3 + 4 = 7 + 2 = 9. They will add an extra = to answer the question based on the methods they were taught.
Another big mistake occurs when the sum is presented differently, for example: 4 + __ = 7. The learner was taught to add or subtract groups. In this case, the learner sees a 4, a 7 and a +. The answer to the problem is then written as follows: 4 + 11 = 7. This is because the learner adds the 4 and the 7. The same happens with subtraction, for example: __ – 4 = 6 becomes 2 – 4 = 6.
By the time learners are faced with more challenging sums, the = is merely the symbol next to the answer.
The secret to any Maths problem is to balance the sum. The centre of the sum is the = and the golden rule is to balance both sides of the =. Before learners are taught about + and -, they must learn about =. This can be done using simple exercises where two sides are matched:
Balance the circles so that there are an equal number of dots on either side of the =.
Which number must be in the blank circle so that the circles on either side of the = are the same?
When learners understand that sums must be balanced and that the = is the starting point of every sum, they will master problems such as 6 = 4 + __ and __ – 2 = 3 in no time.
Learners must thus get out of the habit of doing sums from left to right. Instead, they must start at the = and balance the sums.
Hilda Erasmus: Foundation Phase Specialist