Adding It Up!

Sometimes it’s not as simple as it sounds.

Taking Working Memory on an Arithmetic Field Trip

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Steps for math calculation and problem solving

In the last post we were exploring the important, positive tasks that working memory allows each of us to do on a daily basis. We will explore these positive aspects of working memory in following articles as well as how working memory is disadvantaged in life  and in math particularly.

So to set the stage, let’s start by solving this math problem:

27+ 8 = ?

Now many of you have solved it in your mind already, but for a young student it may be challenging because it involves several steps that rely on working memory. If you can remember ever having difficulty with horizontal math problems, the steps listed below will show you it is much more complex than you think. Let’s take a look at each step in the addition process.

Step 1.  Take the 7 and the 8 and use you mind to calculate the first part of the answer.

Step 2. Put the answer 15 in your working memory and hold it there.

Step 3. Remember the 5 and use your working memory to regroup or carry the 1 (from 15) and prepare to add it to the 2 (from 27).

Step 4. Update your working memory with 2. Combine 2 with 1 (from 15) to get the answer 3.

Step 5. Recall the 5 held in working memory.

Step 6. Organize the numbers with the 5 in the ones place of value and 3 in the tens place of value for the answer 35.

This problem is tricky because it is presented horizontally rather then vertically. Children frequently solve it by writing down 125 because their working memory is not up to the task of keeping track of where they are in the problem. They are left to puzzle about what to do with the 1 that is carried over.

Working memory is directly related to a student’s ability to solve arithmetic problems.

Working memory is a key factor in keeping numerical knowledge in the correct order to solve problems such as these.

(adapted from Working Memory by Tracey and Ross Alloway)

Next – positive aspects and disadvantages impacting working memory.   

Resources:

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