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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Utilizing the empty number line to facilitate sense making in the mental math classroom Macken, Wendy


The purpose of this study was to explore the possibilities of the Empty Number Line to further develop and strengthen students’ numeracy skills, specific to addition and subtraction. The Empty Number Line (ENL) is a Dutch approach to developing numeracy and mental math skills in the elementary classroom. Internationally acknowledged, the Empty Number Line (ENL) boasts to solving computational tasks in a manner that builds on users intuitive understanding of number. Typically, this model is introduced in the primary years to support early numeracy development. However, this study set out to determine if the tool could be utilized to strengthen the computational skills and fundamental numerical understanding of a sample of 28 Grade 4 students, having no prior exposure to this model. Specifically, the researcher sought to determine what the ENL could reveal about students' sense of number, while utilizing the tool in a manner that supported sense making and self generated strategies. Central to this study was to establish student opinion of this tool, in regards to its effectiveness and ease of use. Over a four week period, students were asked to commit to eight one hour blocks focusing on the exploration of this tool. Three strategies, stringing, bridging and splitting were presented. Via whole class lessons, independent tasks and group activities, students completed a variety of tasks by applying a presented strategy. Student samples and journals were analyzed to determine students performance and opinions over the four week period. Overall students responded very favourably to this tool, and the majority of students developed a good understanding of how to utilize the ENL. However, data unveiled much about students’ numerical capabilities, and in many cases highlighted gaps in children’s number sense. In addition, data analysis highlighted some important future considerations for those considering using this tool, including the delivery of solutions as well as the challenge of applying splitting to subtraction tasks. To conclude, this study highlights advantages and disadvantages when using the ENL to solve 2 and 3 digit computation tasks, as well as considerations to educators intending to present this approach in future teaching endeavours.

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