The skill of adding and subtracting draws on all of the skills studied in the whole number section, and a failure to progress will generally indicate that one or more of these skills needs to be revisited.
Understanding addition and subtraction begins with the realisation that the total of a collection changes when items are added or removed. The key skill at this stage is still counting, as students will initially use a ‘make all- count all’ strategy. That is, they will either add or remove a specified number of items from their collection, and then count the new collection starting at one to find the new total. Language is an important element at this level – linkng the idea of adding and removing items from a collection should be linked with words such as add, plus, take, minus and subtract and difference*.
Once students are familiar enough with counting to ‘trust the count’ they will be able to add and subtract by counting on or back from the total. This is a very inefficient way of adding and subtracting however and as soon as students ‘trust the count’, they should start to explore patterns. These will be visual initially, through subitising and investigating the ‘part-part-whole’ nature of number using counters.
Part-part-whole knowledge begins with exploring the structure of all the numbers to 10 – understanding that four is two and two or three and one for example. Part-part-whole knowledge can then be extended to larger numbers through an understanding of the base 10 and place value system ultimately leading to efficient mental methods of adding and subtracting.
*Difference is an important idea as it leads to the understanding that add and subtract are just two different ways of looking at the same thing. Addition and subtraction should be taught as part of a single concept where possible.