Photo: gorosi/AdobeStock

Structural approach in teaching as foundation for sustainable arithmetic learning - SATSA

Research project
Active research
Project period
2021 - 2024
Project owner
Department of education, communication and learning

Swedish Research Council

Short description

In this project we direct attention to how teaching with a structural approach to 6-yearolds facilitates conceptual growth of number concept and arithmetic skills. The object of our inquiry is teaching, that is how interaction towards a certain content promotes learning. Observations are carried out regarding how teaching numbers and arithmetic in Swedish preschool class is conducted, together with intervention programs implemented in a large number of classes. The goal is to gain better knowledge of what the structural approach in teaching affords the young students to learn, regarding sustainable and developable arithmetic knowledge and skills.


The project stems from a growing body of research emphasizing the importance of early interventions as foundational for prosperous development of number knowledge and arithmetic skills. Early interventions often show a positive success rate, but fade-out effects are also very common. Critical for educational science is thereby how to design and implement interventions that result in a conceptually solid understanding of numbers that leads to sustainable successful executive skills in arithmetic problem solving. The key to conceptualizing powerful interventions, we suggest, is to direct attention to the quality of teaching number concepts in the early years, that is, how conceptual growth is facilitated in the teaching that is offered to children. To find the key features of successful ways to teach that result in knowledge and skills that are developable and thus sustainable in a prolonged perspective is a highly desirable goal. In consensus with a large body of research we assume that successful arithmetic competence relies on the ability to handle numbers as structured in a part-whole-relationship.


The aim of the planned project is to characterize what makes the learning outcomes from a structural approach sustainable and developable. The specific research questions to be answered are:

RQ1: What foundation for further learning arithmetic is provided in preschool class mathematics education?

RQ2: To what extent is it possible to enhance pupils’ number knowledge and arithmetic skills as to be sustainable, through teaching with a structural approach?

RQ3: What are critical features for prosperous arithmetic skills development in the structural approach to teaching?


In the planned project we will conduct observations of teaching practices in 100 Swedish preschool classes. In 30 of them, we will implement a structural approach to teaching number concepts and arithmetic strategies following two intervention programs proven to be successful (PASMAP developed by Joanne Mulligan & colleagues., and FASETT developed by Camilla Björklund & colleagues.). Analyses of the assessments of pupils’ developing number knowledge and the affordances in the intervention programs give us a deeper insights to the core features of a structural approach in teaching and empirically reveal to what extent and on what groundings the approach facilitates successful arithmetic development.

Project members

Camilla Björklund, project leader, University of Gothenburg

Maria Alkhede, University of Gothenburg

Anna-Lena Ekdahl, Jönköping University

Jessica Elofsson, Linköping University

Angelika Kullberg, University of Gothenburg

Ulla Runesson Kempe, Jönköping University



Björklund, C., Elofsson, J., Kullberg, A., Ekdahl, A-L., Runesson Kempe, U., & Alkhede, M. (2024). Preschool class students’ discernment of number structure in a spatial pattern. In Häggström, J., Kilhamn, C., Mattsson, L., Palmér, H., Perez, M., Pettersson. K., Röj-Lindberg, A.-S. & Teledahl, A. (Eds.), Mediating mathematics. Proceedings of MADIF14 (pp. 85–96). SMDF.

Elofsson, J., Runesson Kempe, U., Ekdahl, A-L., & Björklund, C. (2024). Kartläggning av förskoleklassens matematik-undervisning om tal – kvalitativa skillnader och lärandemöjligheter. Forskul, 12(1), 47–68.

Björklund, C., Elofsson, J., Kullberg, A., Ekdahl, A-L., Runesson Kempe, U., & Alkhede, M. (2024). Förskoleklasselevers användning av talstrukturer. Forskul, 12(2), 31–45.