Distributivity, partitioning, and the multiplication algorithm

Chris Hurst(1*), Ray Huntley(2)

(1) School of Education, Curtin University
(2) Independent researcher, Playmouth
(*) Corresponding Author


Multiplicative thinking underpins much of the mathematics learned beyond the middle primary years. As such, it needs to be understood conceptually to highlight the connections between its many aspects. This paper focuses on one such connection; that is how the array, place value partitioning and the distributive property of multiplication are related. It is important that students understand how the property informs the written multiplication algorithm. Another component of successful use of the standard multiplication algorithm is extended number facts and the paper also explores students’ ability to understand and generate them. One purpose of the study was to investigate the extent to which students used the standard multiplication algorithm and if their use of it is supported by an understanding of the underpinning components of the array, partitioning, the distributive property, and extended number facts. That is, we seek to learn if students have a conceptual understanding of the multiplication algorithm and its underpinning mathematics that would enable them to transfer their knowledge to a range of contexts, or if they have procedurally learned mathematics. In this qualitative study, data were generated from the administration of a Multiplicative Thinking Quiz with a sample of 36 primary aged students. Data were analyzed manually and reported using descriptive statistics. The main implications of the study are that the connections among the multiplicative array, place value partitioning, base ten property of place value, distributive property of multiplication, and extended number facts need to be made explicit for children in terms of how they inform the use of the written algorithm for multiplication. 


Multiplicative, conceptual, procedural, algorithm, distributivity

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