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The Core Concept
Touch Math is not a new concept. On the contrary, it’s been around for well over thirty years. It is a “multi-sensory" approach to teaching basic math using visual, auditory and tactile components. A child is taught to count dots or “touch points" on images of numbers, and the positions of the dots are memorized. The child looks at the number, says its name, touches his finger or pencil to each dot and counts up. The dots are counted in the same pattern each time, and once they are remembered, the dots are gradually removed.
Example: For the number three, the child would touch a dot at the beginning, middle and end of the number which would look like this: Single dots are used for digits 1 through 5. Higher numbers use double touch points, dots with circles around them. For example, the number 7 has three double dots and one single dot (called the nose to help remember it). Like so: Once the child knows the points and patterns, he/she can begin to perform operations like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
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The Touch Math method can be used to teach special or regular education students math basics. The process has applications for the four basic operations, as well as for teaching about money, time, pre-algebra and word problems. Even though the system is very basic, it still carries over into life skills such as check-book balancing or figuring out change when making purchases. Adults who were taught the technique have noted that they still use it today.
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For students who have trouble with instant recall of math facts, Touch Math can be a wonderful way to enable learning. The multi-sensory nature of the program accommodates different learning styles. A student who is a visual learner will eventually “see" the placement of the dots in her mind’s eye. Auditory learners will remember saying and hearing the patterns. The biggest benefit might be to the tactile learner who might learn math using manipulatives just fine, but might not always have those manipulatives available (like when standing on a checkout line at the supermarket later in life).
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Message boards and forum discussions about Touch Math revealed some criticisms of the program, particularly from parents of general education students. Some have noted that their child became confused by the dots after learning more traditional methods of performing math operations.
Other concerns had to do with their child becoming dependent on the dots and not being able to do calculations without them. Some teachers have expressed frustration that the continued use of the dots prevents their students from memorizing number facts (i.e. 2 + 2 = 4).
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It seems that for many kids, Touch Math is an excellent way to introduce basic math skills, and if used properly can benefit anyone. For students who need the multi-sensory input, it has great potential and can make them feel successful in a subject where they may have otherwise struggled. For students who don’t necessarily need the extra input, Touch Math can simply be used as a supplemental tool to enrich other methods being taught. With all the research available on multiple intelligences, there is every reason for teachers to employ as many teaching strategies as possible for instruction. The evidence leans in favor of using Touch Math as one of those strategies.