I went the other night to a workshop at the mini-Ws' school which was designed to inform parents about the modern techniques used in teaching maths. Imagine my horror when it became clear it was a practical session. Kids were waiting in various classrooms with games and exercises related to addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
I was feeling particularly tired that evening and hoped to ease myself in with a bit of simple adding up, but was plunged straight into long division. Thankfully one of the mums accompanying me on the tour did the heavy lifting. I threw dice for her to establish randomly the sums that she was due to divide. She seemed to get the hang of the technique and I was thankfully never asked to have a go myself. I was awarded a star by the child in charge of the table, presumably for my assured shaking of the dice.
In the substraction room, I encountered a lady who'd come along from the local teacher training college, who was very enthusiastic about a technique imported from the Netherlands within the past ten years. It allowed children to find the difference between two numbers and it consisted of a line drawn across a page. Not a line with numbers on it though. This was the revolutionary thing about the Dutch strategy. Lines with numbers were old hat. Here, we had a line without any numbers. Just a plain old line that you could hang washing on. You placed one number at one end of it and a second number at the other end. You then leapfrogged your way down this empty line in convenient stages, finding your way to round figures and making a note of how many units you'd covered along the way. By adding up the numbers in your 'leaps', you'd worked out the difference between the two figures you started with.
I was just trying to imagine the conference at which the revolutionary Dutch tool was first unveiled. 'Isn't it grand? Isn't it fine? Look at the cut, the style, the line!'