Q&A #17459

Teachers' Lounge Discussion: Who "invented" touch point math?

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From: Katie

To: Teacher2Teacher Public Discussion
Date: 2012091715:41:40
Subject: Re: The Potential Dangers of Teaching Touch Math

I am currently looking into the various strategies for teaching basic
math facts (simple addition and subtraction) to children, and I came
across this article regarding the dangers of teaching touch math. I
have numerous questions, however, about the stated harmfulness of
touch math:

1. "It is an artificial, contrived, synthetic program..."

How is this a problem, necessarily?

2. "It encourages rote, mindless, “pencil tapping."

As far as I can see, the "pencil tapping" is not mindless - it's

3. "The method forces students to think of every number as “in the
ones column” and, as a result, it inhibits understanding of place
value concepts, thus deterring number sense."

As I understand it, math is first introduced with manipulatives.
Obviously, we don't want children to continue to need physical
manipulatives forever, so eventually, I assume, "number sense" must

With touch math, it seems to me that a manipulative becomes buried
within the number, and that, in a very visual sense, the number is
seen as "being worth" that much or becoming its actual value.

For example, the number 5 contains five touchpoints. The touchpoints
seem to me to be a simple visual representation, right on the number
itself, of what the number 5 "means" or stands for.

4. "It is rule bound, and teacher lead. There are no strategies taught
– only rules remembered."

I'm not sure I'm entirely understanding the distinction or, again, why
this is inherently a problem. I can understand how this is a problem
if the touchpoint system is NOT working, but if it's working to assist
with basic computation, I'm not sure how being "rules remembered" is a

When basic math facts are memorized (as seems to be the current
"method" of teaching them?), there are also no strategies involved -
only facts remembered. And math is, on the whole, a lot of rules to
remember. There's not much creativity within basic math and the
knowledge of what numbers mean and how they work!

5. "Students cannot manipulate them in any way. They can only touch
them on paper."

In my opinion, the students ARE manipulating the dots or points -
within their mind - as a transition between physical manipulatives and
simple memorization, and this actually contributes to a greater
understanding of the "sense" of the numbers.

6. "Another problem with Touch Math™ is that teachers who use
this system are so impressed with the speed and accuracy resulting
 from teaching this method..."

Again, I see how never moving beyond this method or doing most
memorization of basic math facts is a problem - however, if a child
has most facts memorized, and reaches a problem where they suddenly
cannot remember, for example, 7+4, it seems to be that touchpoints
offers an actual strategy for finding an answer - something that
cannot be obtained with memorization.

7. "With Touch Math™, the foundational concepts of addition,
subtraction, multiplication or division are ignored"

At their simplest, the foundational concepts of addition, etc, are
counting. This is exactly what touchmath reinforces.

8. "Think about numerals as representations of quantity.  The number
38, for example is not thought of as “almost 40”, which would be
helpful for estimating an answer, or as 3 tens and 8, which would be
helpful for understanding place value concepts.  Instead 38 is thought
of as an 8 which requires 8 taps and a 3 which required 3 taps."

This kind of problem seems to be an issue only if math concepts are
taught out of order or to children who are not ready for the concepts,
but not an actual problem with the touchpoint system.

Ultimately, my question is:

What are the STRATEGIES you recommend kids use for basic
addition/subtraction, especially when they cannot remember a memorized
fact (ie, 7+4)?

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