Date of Award

2005

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts Honours

School

School of Psychology and Social Sciences

Faculty

Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Dr Craig Speelman

Abstract

This review examines the question of what determines arithmetic ability in primary school children. It has been suggested that arithmetic ability is mediated by many factors such as developmental factors, exposure to arithmetic facts, selection and utilisation of various strategies when solving arithmetic problems, and individual differences in working memory capacity. Some theories suggest that factors such as the complexity of a problem affect the selection of strategies when solving simple arithmetic problems such as addition, whereas other theories propose that individual differences in working memory capacity play a prominent role in arithmetic ability. Research is discussed that provides support for both theories. Further research is proposed that would reconcile these apparent contradictions. This project was focused on how children come to understand basic arithmetic rules and acquire strategies and principles that help them to resolve arithmetic problems. Research conducted by Siegler (1987) indicated that children use multiple strategies such as counting and retrieval from memory. Other research also indicated that a larger working memory capacity is more likely to result in better academic achievement in areas such as language and mathematics (Gathercole, Pickering, Knight & Stegmann, 2004). In order to test previous results and expand knowledge of arithmetic skills this research investigated strategies used by 52 third grade children, their working memory capacity in the domains of sentences, digit span forward and object search, and their ability to solve multiplication problems. Analysis indicated the children who utilised retrieval strategy when adding were able to solve more multiplication problems than children who utilised other strategies; counting all and min strategy. The three domains of working memory were also positively correlated with the number of correctly solved addition and multiplication problems. The strategy selected when solving the most complex addition problem was a significant predictor of the ability to correctly solve multiplication problems. Implications for future research and the implementation of these findings aiming at enhancing teaching of arithmetic in primary school were discussed.

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