Developing Number Systems Knowledge

Margaret Kielty 
Kindergarten Teacher
H. Reid Elementary School
Richmond City Public Schools

Listen to Margaret discuss her Action Research Project

I teach in a high-poverty school as determined by the State and Federal governments. The school is in Priority status due to failure on the State tests and failure to meet Annual Measurable Objectives. Approximately 70% of the students are English Language Learners, who require additional language support. Because of rezoning, the school exceeds capacity for the student population by 20%. Because of the Priority status, teachers are required to follow an explicit pacing, testing, and content guide. Students are required to take Benchmark assessments in Language Arts and Math every nine weeks, in addition to content assessments.

I want to improve my students’ understanding of quantities. Some come to school with the ability to rote count, but many do not. The students need to understand that 3, three, and … (three dots) are the same. Most of my students do not know how to count, recognize numerals or recognize specific quantities. The question for my project is: “Will continued use of visuals and manipulatives increase number systems understanding? Will student discussion and questioning increase understanding?” If I provide more student discussion time, then students will gain understanding of number systems. They will understand that 3, three, and … are different representations of the same number regardless of context.

Based on initial findings, the students had less math knowledge than expected. This may be due to the higher ELL population in my class (70%) and the lower number of students who attended pre-school (4 students). Data meetings with colleagues indicated similar levels across the grade level, so limited English proficiency may be a substantial factor in the results. To ensure that I was measuring mathematical understanding and not mastery of English, I focused on visual and manipulative tools to collect data. Students continued to make limited progress with quantities and numerals. This may be the result of language obstacles, developmentally inappropriate testing models, and moving on to new concepts before students are ready, as determined by the district guide. The age of students may also be a factor: all but two students are five, with no birthdays before February. I continued to focus on manipulative tools and assessments to collect data, to ensure mathematical understanding was what was being measured. My next steps inlcuded conducting observations, and taking field notes. I listened to, and recorded, student discussions as they worked on math activities. I had students explain what they were doing as they worked. I hope that by looking closely at both the qualitative and quantitative data, it will provide a more complete picture of student understanding and learning needs.

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