The American elementary teacher is well schooled on how to teach reading, and they all can read beyond the grade level that they teach. With mathematics, it’s a different story. Many teachers have math anxiety and are uncomfortable with math beyond the level that they teach. Mathematics is probably one of the hardest subjects for students to learn and understand. It is not the fault of the subject itself but the way it is taught.
Because we are a society that depends on the written and spoken word, we as teachers, have a tendency to teach mathematics only through these mediums. They are, of course, abstract methods of teaching the subject. We try to improve students’ understanding by drawing pictures but this does not reach the student who is a tactile learner, or one who understands through concrete means. Imagine teaching a class of students how to use a computer by showing them a picture of a computer, drawing diagrams on a chalkboard and then giving them a lecture on how to use it. Would we teach children how to play soccer by showing them a picture of a ball and a field on a screen? Would we motivate them with a video, then finally give them a textbook to learn the skills of the game? The two examples are ludicrous but this is how mathematics is usually taught – without the use of concrete materials. Learners need to be taught mathematics through the senses, that is why we call it number sense.