The Most Challenging K-6 Math Topic (Survey Results)

Teachers recently told us, of all the K-6 math topics in the curriculum, which one they would most like help with.
Care to guess which topic came to the top of the list?

Most Challenging K-6 Math Topic

The “winner”: Place value. Close behind? Operations, followed by Number facts.

Since these three broad topics form the bulk of the mathematics curriculum, especially if you include fractions, perhaps this isn’t a big surprise. But another perspective is that, while these three form the backbone of the math curriculum, they are possibly the most abstract and the most difficult for children to understand.

Most Requested Resources

The followup question we asked was “If support for the above K-6 math topic were available, which of the following components would you like included?” The following possible components were listed:

  • Teacher information about recommendations for teaching the topic
  • Pretest to assess students’ learning prior to starting the topic
  • Video to set the scene / prompt discussion / show math in real life contexts
  • Video for teacher on recommended teaching
  • Instructional video for students
  • Hands-on learning activities
  • Worksheets
  • Differentiation activities for various levels of ability
  • Homework sheets
  • Parents information to explain homework
  • Posttest to assess students’ learning after learning the topic

The results? The top request, made by 85% of respondents, was “Hands-on learning activities”, followed by “Differentiation activities for various levels of ability”, and then “Video to set the scene / prompt discussion / show math in real life contexts“.

I am encouraged to see that teachers we have contacted want their students to have experiences with hands-on activities to help them learn math. As we all know, math is a highly abstract discipline, and traditionally it was taught around the symbols, which themselves are linked abstractly to the numbers which they represent. So to provide children with physical, hands-on ways to represent and play around with numbers is the way to help them to understand the subject, in my view.

What Next?

We are now starting development of a new package of resources to support teachers in their teaching of K-6 math. We will start with a small beta product, and put it out to a small group of our best supporters. All being well, this will then become available to others, via this website.

If you would like to be notified of when the package is publicly available, click the box below:


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8 Replies to “The Most Challenging K-6 Math Topic (Survey Results)”

  1. Thank you Professor Pete. The video confirmed for me what I have been observing in the 42 years that I have been teaching. I previously lived and taught at a primary level in New Zealand and a system of pre test and post testing really showed you the capaboliities of each student. Differentiation as stated in the video is a top priority too and what faces teachers at the coal face every day.

  2. Great idea: Helping primary school teacher teach mathematics better e.g., place value. We need to build mathematical growth mindsets.

    1. Thanks, Bob, for the encouraging comment.

      I believe that understanding place value is one of several key foundations that should be established early in a child’s math understanding.

  3. Hi Peter,

    Thanks for the chance to complete your survey and I look forward to the coming resources. I have changed career later in life and am currently teaching year 3 for the first time. I agree with the result – the basics are important to establish while my school has homework covered for each year level.

    I particularly benefit from your how to teach each maths topic videos.

    1. Thanks, Darren!

      I think teachers recognise the results of not learning foundations early just about every day in their own students.

      I have felt for a long time that the most important teachers in a school are those teaching the earliest years. Get that wrong, and kids can be hampered for life!

  4. Many Year 7 and Year 8 students continue to have difficulty with these topics. Even Year 12 students can struggle to read large numbers. If we can find ways to create a greater understanding early then many other concepts e.g. rounding, scientific notation etc, won’t cause as many headaches in secondary school.

    1. I totally agree, Sandra. I have had a little experience teaching in high school, and their are LOTS for whom math isn’t making sense.

      And it all starts with the most basic concepts and principles, like place value and memorized number facts.

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