Thursday, 1 May 2014

Zoltan Paul Dienes 1916-2014


"In reality, no one can teach mathematics. Effective teachers are those who can stimulate students to learn mathematics.

Educational research offers compelling evidence that students learn mathematics well only when they construct their own mathematical understanding."

From the creator of Base 10 blocks, Mathematician Zoltan Dienes, who died on 11th January this year

In New Zealand we started with Centimo Blocks, which were often made out of Rimu or similar wood, so that students could use the models to ‘prove’ that “ten of these make one of these”  and         “one of these make ten of these!” up till then students just had to accept that “ten ones had the same value as one ten”!  This also reminds me of the old Chinese Proverb,                         

“I hear and I forget, 
I see and I remember,
I do and I understand” 

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, especially in Auckland, we took Dienes ideas further and developed programs using “Multibase Blocks” or “Jocks Blocks” (after Jock Day, Mathematics Adviser).  These blocks had students working in Base Two -groups of two- through Base Ten - groups of ten.  
The programme had students working initially with materials, and then in semi-abstract (abacus) and finally abstract and the students developed great understandings in Place Value and the four operations on whole numbers.

 Unfortunately with the Educational Structural Changes of the late 80’s, Adviser support was not as readily available to support teachers and schools, so the use of these materials gradually disappeared. In the late 90’s with the advent of the Numeracy Development Project, Base Ten and Multibase Blocks were overlooked as a tool for student development, as “Teachers already know how to use these, so we are developing alternatives to supplement the maths development”

It is my view as a former MOE Maths Adviser, Numeracy Project Facilitator and Private Maths Education Consultant, that if we help students explore number concepts through the use of structured base material they would develop a greater understanding of Place Value and other number concepts and operations. Thus furthering the approach advocated by Dienes.

Further information about Zoltan Dienes can be found at:

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