5 reasons place value is so hard to understand

For the first four years of life you were told this is the number "one". Your parents affirmed this, your Nursery confirmed this, and your EYFS teacher celebrated you for getting it right.

Then something happened when you turned five and entered Year 1. Your new teacher told you that if you put two numbers together and put the number 1 before another number it is no longer a "one" but a "ten", and any number that now follows the 1 is a "one". Except the 1 at the beginning of the number.

In Year 2, your teacher told you that if you put a 1 next to two other numbers it becomes a hundred; before three other numbers it is a thousand, and so on...

5 reasons place value is so hard to understand

1. We use the same words to describe different quantities: The numbers 1-9 constantly repeat themselves, however, it means something different when it holds a different place value.

2. Students struggle with visualising quantities of numbers when they have no supports (out of sight, out of mind): They may come up with the wrong answer because they do not understand or have something called number sense. This is our basic, intuitive understanding of number and quantities.

3. The way we say numbers makes little sense (who came up with "eleven" and "twelve" anyway?!): All of the teens numbers are pronounced backwards - 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19. If we pronounced them literally we would say "ten and three, ten and four, ten and five...".

4. "-teen" and the suffix "-ty" (as in forty, fifty, sixty) are often confused: Students who struggle with place value often mispronounce numbers in the teens and numbers ending with "0".

5. Re-grouping or exchanging requires the use of short-term and working memory: Young people with maths difficulties struggle with re-grouping and exchanging in maths because of working memory (their ability to hold and manipulate numbers in their mind), especially when they have no visual or concrete supports.

Next week's question:

What can I do about place value difficulties?!