Common Misunderstandings - Level 2 Place-Value

Many students who are able to identify place-value parts (eg, they can say that there are 4 hundreds 6 tens and 8 ones in 468) and count orally to 100 and beyond, still think about or imagine 2 and/or 3 digit collections additively in terms of ones (ie, 468 is actually understood as the sum of 400 ones, 60 ones and 8 ones).

This could be due to/associated with:

  • inadequate part-part-whole knowledge for the numbers 0 to 10 and/or an inability to trust the count (see Level 1);
  • an inability to recognise 2, 5 and 10 as composite or countable units (often indicated by an inability to count large collections efficiently);
  • little or no sense of numbers beyond 10 (eg, fourteen is 10 and 4 more); and/or
  • a failure to recognise the structural basis for recording 2 digit numbers (eg, sees and reads 64 as “sixty-four”, but thinks of this as 60 and 4 without recognising the significance of the 6 as a count of tens, even though they may be able to say how many tens in the tens place)

By the end of Level 2 students need a deep understanding of the place-value pattern, 10 of these is 1 of those, to support more efficient ways of working with 2 digit numbers and beyond. Place-value is difficult to teach and learn as it is often masked by successful performance on superficial tasks such as counting by ones on a 0-99 or 1-100 Number Chart. The structure of the base ten number system is essentially multiplicative, as it involves counts of different sized groups that are powers of 10. Unfortunately, place-value is often introduced before students have demonstrated an understanding that the numbers 2 to 10 can be used as countable units and/or before any informal work with equal groups. As a consequence, many students develop misconceptions in this area which serve to undermine their capacity to use place-value based strategies to support efficient mental and written computation and their later understanding of larger whole numbers and decimal fractions.

A key indicator of the extent to which students have developed a sound basis for place-value is the extent to which they can efficiently count large collections and confidently make, name, record, compare, order, sequence, count forwards and backwards in place-value parts, and rename 2 and 3 digit numbers in terms of their parts.