How do I help pupils understand value in KS1 maths?

In this ‘Ask the expert’, Emily Jones explores the ways in which year 1 pupils recognise the value of British coins, using a question from NFER’s year 1 maths assessments.

Whatever the age of the pupil, studying the strategies used to answer questions can be immensely informative. It is for this reason that at NFER we have produced diagnostic guidance for our new spring term reading and mathematics assessments for years 1 and 2, following the analysis of answers given in a nationally representative trial of the assessments. We wanted to produce meaningful information for teachers of younger pupils, in line with what we provide for year 3-5 teachers in the spring term and, more recently, year 6 teachers in both autumn and spring. Incorporated into our teacher guides, this diagnostic commentary helps teachers to identify common errors and offers next steps advice to inform future teaching.

The example below was trialled during the development of our year 1 spring mathematics assessments, and can be found within our sample materials. With the help of visual aids, pupils are assessed on their ability to recognise the value of coins in the UK.

What did pupils do?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, three of the options made up over 95% of pupil responses: 2p, 20p and £1 – the correct answer.

What do the results tell us?
Including the 2p coin as an option in this question tested the misconception that a coin’s physical size determines its value. In total, 12% of pupils made this mistake. Another pitfall for pupils was the assumption that the value of a coin is specified only by the number on its face; in this example, 20p would have the highest value by this logic. Close to half of the pupils sampled (45%) made this mistake. Slightly fewer pupils correctly chose £1 (39%).

What does this mean for teaching?
More than half of the pupils sampled chose an incorrect answer to this question, demonstrating that misconceptions about the value of British coins are common in key stage 1. It indicates that pupils need opportunities to explore and understand the difference between pounds and pence. Although not specified in the national curriculum, some pupils may be aided by an awareness that 100 pennies have the same value as 1 pound.

Alternatively, pupils could research and compare items they could buy for 10 pennies vs. 10 pounds. Appreciating that a ticket to see a movie at the cinema (£10) is worth more than one play of a game at the school fete (10p) can help pupils distinguish between the two monetary units. Pupils can also work with sets of coins, ordering them according to size and according to value to understand that these orders differ.

Did you know?
The NFER Tests range includes mathematics assessments for use across years 1-6. These standardised tests provide reliable standardised and age-standardised scores to help you confidently monitor attainment and progress, and are supported by a free online analysis tool. Click here to find out more.

Written by Emily Jones, Research Director at NFER.
Emily has been with NFER since 2001 and has worked on a wide range of projects, centred on developing test materials in science and mathematics, including for the Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 statutory tests in England and the Australian statutory NAPLAN test.

Emily is responsible for the development of NFER Tests in mathematics, reading, grammar and punctuation and spelling. She is also a consultant member of the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) 2019 Science and Maths Item Review Committee and in recent years has contributed to the development of their new practical science e-assessment tasks, as well as developing and trialling the standard science questions.

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