What is so bad about using fingers for math?

Discussion in 'Elementary Education' started by Pencil Monkey, Aug 20, 2008.

  1. Pencil Monkey

    Pencil Monkey Devotee

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2004
    Messages:
    1,177
    Likes Received:
    0

    Aug 20, 2008

    Ok.........so I have this really low group of kids for math this year. I team teach.

    The kids are literally terrified to use a number line or fingers to find answers. Its clear that they aren't doing it in thier heads very well as simple problems are difficult.

    Why were these children told not to use thier fingers? Did I miss this train of thought in college somewhere? I would rather they use something than get all of it wrong.
     
  2.  
  3. little317

    little317 Groupie

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2006
    Messages:
    1,289
    Likes Received:
    0

    Aug 20, 2008

    I don't see a problem with kids using fingers or a number line. Its simply a strategy. Maybe you could help them make a chart of strategies to use when they come to tough problems.
     
  4. math_teacher

    math_teacher Companion

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2008
    Messages:
    125
    Likes Received:
    0

    Aug 20, 2008

    When it is OK in elementary school, they keep the habit ... when they get to high school they spend valuable time counting on their fingers for each problem.

    I've even seen a student draw over 50 lines to help her count....

    It's very sad.
     
  5. terptoteacher

    terptoteacher Connoisseur

    Joined:
    Jun 30, 2006
    Messages:
    1,751
    Likes Received:
    2

    Aug 20, 2008

    I still have to count on my fingers!!!:p:eek:
     
  6. trayums

    trayums Enthusiast

    Joined:
    Aug 28, 2005
    Messages:
    2,424
    Likes Received:
    0

    Aug 20, 2008

    :blush:I still count on my fingers too...It's a strategy. However, I think basic facts should be committed to memory as well because it will create challenges in the upper grades.
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2008
  7. kcjo13

    kcjo13 Phenom

    Joined:
    Dec 6, 2005
    Messages:
    4,395
    Likes Received:
    7

    Aug 20, 2008

    I really dislike it when kids count on their fingers. As someone else said, it is a quick fix when they are younger, but when the problems get more difficult, they can't make the transition to mental math as easy.

    Personally, I was taught using touch dots, and I still use it. I hate that I do it too, but it's like I can't help it! I know 9+7=16, but I still touch the 7, it's weird.
     
  8. DaTeach

    DaTeach Comrade

    Joined:
    Mar 1, 2005
    Messages:
    313
    Likes Received:
    0

    Aug 20, 2008

    ...best manipulatives I know of!!!
     
  9. mrachelle87

    mrachelle87 Fanatic

    Joined:
    Aug 30, 2006
    Messages:
    2,813
    Likes Received:
    52

    Aug 20, 2008

    My dad, (the teacher that allowed comic book reports) told me that your fingers were God's first calculator. So I was taught to use them. I think that it is fine, but we also have to slowly encourage kids to do math without them.
     
  10. Teach'em

    Teach'em Companion

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2008
    Messages:
    211
    Likes Received:
    0

    Aug 20, 2008

    My first grade teacher assessed us on how well we could add without using our fingers. We had to go up to her desk and put our hands in a fist out in front of us while she asked us math problems. No fingers to use, so I just counted my nuckles :whistle:
     
  11. soflgal

    soflgal Companion

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2007
    Messages:
    125
    Likes Received:
    0

    Aug 20, 2008

    I see nothing wrong with it! I say just do it!
     
  12. shartran

    shartran Rookie

    Joined:
    Aug 6, 2007
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    0

    Aug 20, 2008

    Hi - I just completed a workshop (one day) called 'The Power of Ten'. The speaker: Trevor Calkins told us that in order for true understanding regarding number sense, students should not be encouraged to use just their fingers for counting, subtracting, adding, etc., They need to visual working with the number '10' through games, etc., (dominos, dice, etc., ) Here is his site:www.poweroften.ca/
    The site doesn't explain the entire program, but might give you some idea. My entire elementary school will be implementing this year. It is Canadian, but perhaps there someone/thing else similar?
     
  13. Sarge

    Sarge Enthusiast

    Joined:
    Jan 13, 2007
    Messages:
    2,434
    Likes Received:
    124

    Aug 20, 2008

    Worlds oldest math manipulatives.
     
  14. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2007
    Messages:
    5,621
    Likes Received:
    5

    Aug 20, 2008

    I may be unpopular here, so please, if you must throw something, make it soft....

    Using your fingers is a crutch that can seriously inhibit your progress later on in mathematics. Later subjects in math require you to be able to effortlessly recall basic facts and each new topic builds on the last one. Adding builds on counting, multiplication builds on adding, fractions build on mulitplication, algebra builds on the whole of arithmetic, calculus builds on algebra, and on it goes. If a child gets stuck somewhere, and doesn't have that effortless recall of the basics, then the next topic become much more difficult that it otherwise would.

    Here's an example: In the US, we often here how "hard" fractions are and how "awful" people are at doing arithmetic with them. In all honesty, fractions would not be difficult if the student had effortless recall of the multiplication facts. If they don't, running through multiples of several numbers at once to find the common denominator, of factors of numbers to reduce fractions becomes increadibly frustrating.

    Another analogy I often use the that math is like a high rise building. Arithmetic forms the foundation of the building. Algebra and geometry form the lower and middle floors, and calculus and beyond are the upper floors. We all know that buildings that lack a strong foundation will eventually fall down. That's why no contractor would ever think to skimp on the strength of the foundation for a high rise. They know that the building would get shaky by the middle floors, then outright "fail" in the upper floors.

    Arithmetic, as the foundation of mathematics needs to be as strong as the foundation of the Empire State building. Allowing children to develop a crutch, such as counting on their fingers, allows a tiny crack to develop in that foundation. That crack will get larger and larger until the "building" eventually falls, or some really good restoration work is done (ie, a great teacher willing to go the extra mile to wean the child from that crutch).

    Having said that, I don't dissagree with using manipulatives as a learning tool, but memorization must be stressed as well. Memorization is boring and "old school" but, it's still a very needed skill. Teach the struggling child how to memorize, play memorization games, encourage the child's efforts, no matter how little progress he's making...he'll get there eventually. When that child is adding fractions like nobody's business, you'll be glad you did.
     
  15. love2teach

    love2teach Enthusiast

    Joined:
    Aug 13, 2003
    Messages:
    2,042
    Likes Received:
    1

    Aug 20, 2008

    I used to get crazy, crazy over the use of fingers in my first grade class. No matter how much I said they were not allowed, the kids did it anyway. So now, I don't even mention the fingers.....I teaching using counters, unifx cubes, number lines, etc... etc...eventually counting on and mental math. Some kids go for the fingers, some don't....some start using fingers and as the skills grow, they move away from it. I never encourage the use of fingers, (I call that "baby stuff" in my room...we do "grown up math" ) but if that is what a kid needs...for the moment, let them use it.....Now, I watch the kids that add/sub. with fingers b/c I know they usually need extra support and I do encourage them to use counters instead. They all realize the importance of this when we start adding/sub. with numbers higher than 10!!!
     
  16. KinderCowgirl

    KinderCowgirl Phenom

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2006
    Messages:
    4,858
    Likes Received:
    0

    Aug 20, 2008

    I also discourage the use of fingers. From observations I have made about the kids, they rely on them too much. When I ask them 5+1 they could figure it out if they used their mental math and thought about the answer, but instead whip out those fingers and start counting. I know they do timed addition tests in 1st Grade so that will really slow them down. They really must be taught good number sense for that to work and today they just don't get that, we teach too much too fast.

    I have tutored 4th Graders who counted on their fingers to figure out 4 groups of 10 - not 10, 20, 30... but 1, 2, 3, and they counted to 40. How accurate is that answer going to be.
     
  17. GrandHighWitch

    GrandHighWitch Companion

    Joined:
    Oct 7, 2007
    Messages:
    170
    Likes Received:
    0

    Aug 20, 2008

    When I was in school, we were discouraged from using our fingers for basic facts after about second grade. We were expected to have them memorized. I see the logic in that... for most kids. It's just easier to KNOW those facts and not have to count, either in your head or on your fingers. That said, some children just really struggle to memorize, and for those kids, I don't see a problem with using fingers. If it helps them get the right answer, that's the important thing.
     
  18. math_teacher

    math_teacher Companion

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2008
    Messages:
    125
    Likes Received:
    0

    Aug 21, 2008

    Well put mmswm!!!!!
     
  19. SpecialPreskoo

    SpecialPreskoo Moderator

    Joined:
    Jul 19, 2002
    Messages:
    5,002
    Likes Received:
    387

    Aug 21, 2008

    When I was in 3rd grade my teacher taught is chisanbop... a way of counting up to 99 on your fingers.
    http://gwydir.demon.co.uk/jo/numbers/finger/chisenbop.htm
    I still use it today if I don't have paper around and need to add 2-digit problems and other math problems. Looks confusion but once you figure it out, it really isn't that hard.
     
  20. knitter63

    knitter63 Groupie

    Joined:
    Jun 26, 2007
    Messages:
    1,396
    Likes Received:
    4

    Aug 21, 2008

    I still, at times, use my fingers for counting. I don't discourage it in my classroom, but I STRESS memorizing the facts. I try to motivate them to memorize by have a Math Masters board, and playing Around the World with me to see who can beat the teacher. My 5th graders love this. I agree that by using the fingers all the time wastes precious time, especially during state testing.
     
  21. CanadianTeacher

    CanadianTeacher Groupie

    Joined:
    May 1, 2005
    Messages:
    1,266
    Likes Received:
    1

    Aug 21, 2008

    Fingers is a strategy and I don't think it's entirely bad, but I tell my students that when they are dealing with bigger numbers, that strategy won't be effective...so they have to learn other ways of solving problems. I do believe that basic facts do need to be memorized, but kids also need to understand how things work and fit together. I'm also a big fan of mental math. I have a hard time with manipulatives because I never used them myself as a student, I wasn't taught with them, so as a teacher, I struggle with that.
     
  22. smgreen78

    smgreen78 Rookie

    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2007
    Messages:
    97
    Likes Received:
    0

    Aug 21, 2008

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with counting on fingers. The issue becomes when students do not transfer that knowledge to other manipulatives, and then to quick recall of facts.

    For early students, counting on fingers is just one other way to count and it is a starting point to scaffold from.

    People generally use whatever strategy is easiest for them. If there are middle school students and high school students who still use their fingers, then they have not learned how to quickly use other strategies.

    I also don't understand why it's so important to be the quickest problem solver. Of course, fluency is nice, and we don't want lack of speed getting in the way problem solving, but I'm still not sure how all those timed tests I took in school are helping me. I would rather have my students understand the concepts (such as what adding means) then be really fast with memorized facts.

    (edit for my crummy spelling... maybe that's a bigger problem then counting on finger)
     
  23. daizie75

    daizie75 Rookie

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2008
    Messages:
    96
    Likes Received:
    0

    Aug 21, 2008

    I love chisanbop! I learned it in first and second grade. People always look at me like I'm crazy. I'll say it's 7 and hold up the number 7 in chisanbop (my thumb and two fingers). I use it all the time. But my elementary education math professor taught it to my college class - well he tried. It was so hard for adults to learn I'm a bit afraid to teach it to my 3rd graders but maybe I'll give it a go. Kids learn lots of things easier. than adults do.
     
  24. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2007
    Messages:
    5,621
    Likes Received:
    5

    Aug 21, 2008


    Memorization and quick recall is VITAL for future success. There is simply no way to do complicated, multi-digit, multi-addend addition without basic recall of addition facts. Subtraction becomes easier as well. Memorized multiplication is also vital. How can you possibly do fractions if you're still adding on your fingers? You must be able to simultaniously recall multiples (or factors) of several numbers in order to add/subtract fractions. The students that struggle with fractions are the same ones that don't have their facts memorized. As a secondary math teacher, my biggest frustration in teaching isn't that students don't get the concepts, it's that they can't apply the concepts. They're too held up in using their fingers or other manipulatives to figure out what they should already know, so they don't do well at more advanced skills.

    More than that, memorization is a skill that is very much still needed. Along with memorizing math facts, students should be learning HOW to memorize. How many students have been cheated out of the ability to take and succeed in classes such as general and organic (and bio) chemistry, physics, biology and history simply because they lack the ability to memorize large amounts of information.

    Yes, students need to understand the concepts, and most of them do, yet we cheat our children and our future by thinking that stressing memorization is somehow less important than the concepts. They are both equally important. The sooner we figure that out, the better of our children will be.
     
  25. HMM

    HMM Cohort

    Joined:
    Dec 21, 2004
    Messages:
    694
    Likes Received:
    1

    Aug 22, 2008

    I count with my fingers using base 2...that way I can count to 1023 :D
     
  26. SpecialPreskoo

    SpecialPreskoo Moderator

    Joined:
    Jul 19, 2002
    Messages:
    5,002
    Likes Received:
    387

    Aug 22, 2008

    HMM, cool!! That would be neat to see!
     
  27. HMM

    HMM Cohort

    Joined:
    Dec 21, 2004
    Messages:
    694
    Likes Received:
    1

    Aug 22, 2008

    I was just kidding, but it would be cool to see ;)
     
  28. 3Sons

    3Sons Enthusiast

    Joined:
    Aug 30, 2007
    Messages:
    2,008
    Likes Received:
    169

    Aug 22, 2008


    I did know someone who did this.

    I agree with mmswm. Effortless recall of facts is important.

    Things like this, however, worry me more.

    <script type="text/javascript" src="http://www2.islandpacket.com/embed/node/31727/media"></script>

    In case the embed doesn't work, it's http://www2.islandpacket.com/node/31727
     
  29. HMM

    HMM Cohort

    Joined:
    Dec 21, 2004
    Messages:
    694
    Likes Received:
    1

    Aug 22, 2008

    :confused: what was the point of that :confused:
     
  30. 3Sons

    3Sons Enthusiast

    Joined:
    Aug 30, 2007
    Messages:
    2,008
    Likes Received:
    169

    Aug 22, 2008


    Apparently, to teach sequencing and basic pattern recognition. I think they're seriously underestimating the capabilities of kindergarteners to understand math, or seriously overestimating their ability to draw abstract concepts from an obtuse "lesson".
     
  31. Hoot Owl

    Hoot Owl Aficionado

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2008
    Messages:
    3,888
    Likes Received:
    0

    Aug 22, 2008

    Everyone has different intellectual abilities and learning styles. Some kids start out with using their fingers and then quickly abandon the practice when it becomes inefficient for them. Gee, I'd rather my kids be right and use their fingers than be wrong for the rest of their lives.
     
  32. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2007
    Messages:
    5,621
    Likes Received:
    5

    Aug 22, 2008

    We wouldn't use this argument for reading...why do we use it for math? Just because somebody learns differently, it doesn't take away the fact that they really need to learn it. Teachers should be teaching kids not just the concepts, but the memorization as well. How to memorize is a skill that needs to be taught. To try to justify not doing it only hurts the kids.
     
  33. runnerss

    runnerss Comrade

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2008
    Messages:
    445
    Likes Received:
    1

    Aug 22, 2008

    Kids using fingers to solve simple basic facts mean that they need to spend more time on Math fluency. I am a 5th grade math teacher and I have students come to me who still can't do 5+7 without using their fingers. I work very hard to get my students to know their facts automatically. This helps strengthen their skills. Basic facts should be as automatic as knowing your first name.
     
  34. runnerss

    runnerss Comrade

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2008
    Messages:
    445
    Likes Received:
    1

    Aug 22, 2008

    :2up:
     
  35. seemoreglass

    seemoreglass Rookie

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2008
    Messages:
    43
    Likes Received:
    0

    Aug 22, 2008

    This is what drives me crazy about education. Education is not an either/or game. Students should be expected to understand the concepts AND memorize their facts.
     
  36. becky

    becky Enthusiast

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2004
    Messages:
    2,247
    Likes Received:
    0

    Aug 22, 2008

    My Jeannie just could not memorize her addition facts. We used flash cards, I sang the facts to her, and had her fill out fact family houses. Although I still worried about her not memorizing, I started reminding her of all the strategies she could use to solve the problems. The wild thing is, she's easily memorizing the multiplication tables. We do flashcards, I made up sheets for her, and she can easily recall. Now- why the big difference? Beats me.
     
  37. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2007
    Messages:
    5,621
    Likes Received:
    5

    Aug 22, 2008

    You found what worked...setting her at ease allowed her to do what she needed to do. It's different for every child and it's the teacher's job to figure out what will work for a child who's having difficulties. Congrats to you and your dd.
     
  38. nicole4

    nicole4 Rookie

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2008
    Messages:
    5
    Likes Received:
    0

    Aug 22, 2008

    We have to teach touch math using points. I see nothing wrong with using fingers, but we aren't allowed to teach that way.
     
  39. becky

    becky Enthusiast

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2004
    Messages:
    2,247
    Likes Received:
    0

    Aug 22, 2008

    Nicole, you might not know we homeschool. I know many hs moms that dislike Touchmath because it's hard to break that habit of touching the numbers. Personally, I like the program and wish it wasn't so expensive. I also wish I had been taught with it.
     
  40. runnerss

    runnerss Comrade

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2008
    Messages:
    445
    Likes Received:
    1

    Aug 22, 2008

    One thing that I have found that helps with addition facts is that the child needs a firm understanding of their place value. For example: 9+6. I know that to make a group of 10 I need to take one from 6 which leaves me 5. That makes 15. So 9+6=15. I hope I explained that okay. I use manipulatives to teach this. It is a little harder to explain on the computer. :blush:
     
  41. raneydae

    raneydae Companion

    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2008
    Messages:
    240
    Likes Received:
    1

    Aug 22, 2008

    For early elementary teachers, the focus is on making sure the kids learn the concepts of addition/subtraction, so I understand why they might not mind if the students use their fingers, as long as they are getting the answer correct.

    However, it is SO SO VERY important for kids to have these facts memorized and be able to recall them quickly. The whole rest of their math education depends on it! While I don't think there is anything wrong with teaching initial addition/subtraction concepts using fingers, beyond kindergarten, it should not be encouraged. And from 2nd-3rd grade on, shouldn't be allowed at all.

    I know it seems like it should be ok to allow a low third grade class to use their fingers, but if no teacher ever weans them off of them, they are going to really suffer later.
     

Share This Page

Members Online Now

Total: 435 (members: 0, guests: 418, robots: 17)
test