Child, Youth, and Family Studies, Department of



Examining number: A soft idea

Date of this Version



Switzer, J. M., Buchheister, K., & Dougherty, B. (2014). Examining number: A soft idea. Teaching Children Mathematics, 21(2), 69 – 71.


Copyright © 2014, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.


Drawing on evidence of students’ difficulties related to their understanding of number, we propose that the currently accepted progression of number development in elementary school, including the initial emphasis on counting and symbolism (e.g., National Mathematics Advisory Panel 2008), is a soft big idea. Specifically, we hypothesize that the current approaches to teaching number and operations may contribute to misconceptions demonstrated by students in later grades. To address this issue, teachers, researchers, and curriculum developers must critically examine students’ known errors against the typical progression that educators and researchers emphasize related to counting, quantity, operation, and number development.