Original Research

Approaches to teaching primary level mathematics

Caroline Long, Tim Dunne
South African Journal of Childhood Education | Vol 4, No 2 | a208 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajce.v4i2.208 | © 2014 Caroline Long, Tim Dunne | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 28 December 2014 | Published: 24 December 2014

About the author(s)

Caroline Long, University of Pretoria, South Africa
Tim Dunne,

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In this article we explore approaches to curriculum in the primary school in order to map and manage the omissions implicit in the current unfolding of the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement for mathematics. The focus of school-based research has been on curriculum coverage and cognitive depth. To address the challenges of teaching mathematics from the perspective of the learner, we ask whether the learners engage with the subject in such a way that they build foundations for more advanced mathematics. We firstly discuss three approaches that inform the teaching of mathematics in the primary school and which may be taken singly or in conjunction into organising the curriculum: the topics approach, the process approach, and the conceptual fields approach. Each of the approaches is described and evaluated by presenting both their advantages and disadvantages. We then expand on the conceptual fields approach by means of an illustrative example. The planning of an instructional design integrates both a topics and a process approach into a conceptual fields approach. To address conceptual depth within this approach, we draw on five dimensions required for understanding a mathematical concept. In conclusion, we reflect on an approach to curriculum development that draws on the integrated theory of conceptual fields to support teachers and learners in the quest for improved teaching and learning.


curriculum design, teaching mathematics, conceptual fields, teaching approaches, dimensions of understanding, exceptional teachers, assessment.


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doi: 10.4102/sajce.v8i2.565