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Building the Foundation: Whole Numbers in the Primary Grades

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Book Chapter

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Increasing globalization encourages assumptions of universalism in teaching and learning, in which cultural and contextual factors are perceived as nonessential. However, our teaching and learning are unavoidably embedded in history, language and culture, from which we draw to organize our educational systems. Such factors can remain hidden but can also provide us with opportunities to gain a deeper understanding of constraints that are taken for granted. This chapter provides a meta-level analysis and synthesis of the what and why of whole number arithmetic (WNA). The summary provides background for the whole volume, which identifies the historical, cultural and linguistic foundations upon which other aspects of learning, teaching and assessment are based. We begin with a historical survey of the development of pre-numeral and numeral systems. We then explore the epistemological and pedagogical insights and highlight the differences between linguistic practices and their links with the universal decimal features of WNA. We investigate inconsistencies between spoken and written numbers and the incompatibility of numeration and calculation and review a number of teaching interventions. Finally, we report the influence of economics and business, academic mathematics, science and technology and public and private stakeholders on WNA to understand how and why curriculum changes are made, with a focus on the fundamental losses and gains.


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