The word ‘divide’ comes from Latin: dividere “to force apart, cleave, distribute,”
Division as a concept is fiendishly difficult to teach. Most children can understand ‘sharing’ objects and move on to sharing on ‘plates’ but does this naturally lead to more formalised methods of division?
According to Nunes and Bryant (1996), division as an operation in not the same as sharing and a notion of ‘sharing’ does not ensure an understanding of the inverse co-variation between division terms.
Moreover, Bus Stop method LOOKS weird. The written algorithm works left to right and does anyone ever explain WHY it’s called Bus Stop?! A picture can help.
Division builds on previous understanding in mathematics, involving all of the operations. Furthermore, additional skills and knowledge are required such as:
Williams and Shuard outline 3 stages in understanding division:
Vergnaud (1990, 1997) : ‘Understanding the concept of division is often confused with skill in operating algorithms’.
What students need to understand:
Selva (1998) outlined 3 difficulties for students:
Partitive question type:
Charles bought 15 pencils to give to each of his 3 friends, how many will they each get?
This question is easier because it involved the action schema of sharing which is understood from a young age.
Quotative question type:
Charles bought 15 pencils. He wants to give 3 pencils to each friend. How many friends will get the pencils?
This type of understanding appears to be acquired later, through teaching.
Haylock and Cockburn (2008) make some great observations about division and language in their excellent book Understanding Mathematics for Young Children.
12 divided by 3 = equal sharing structure.
In this example the language of ‘share equally between’ is appropriate.
However, just as valid in answer to the same question: how many 3’s make 12?
This is the inverse of multiplication and involves grouping into sets of 3. This reinforces the earlier points made by Williams and Shaurd. Haylock and Cockburn feel that perhaps there is an overemphasis on sharing when introducing young children to division. This results in a tendency to attach the words ‘share’, ‘shared between’ etc to the symbol. They propose that in the long term, the sharing structure of division is limited and of less significance than the inverse of multiplication structure.
What to do:
Read the excellent blog by Laurence Holmes @LHteaching on the importance of practice in maths here:
Excellent study looking at difficulties hindering division practice:
Division difficulties: Brazilian study
N Rich article division difficulties
Williams, E. and Shuard, H. (1994) Primary Mathematics Today. Longman
Derek Haylock and Anne Cockburn (2008) Understanding Mathematics for Young Children SAGE