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Fingers as tools for doing and learning basic arithmetics

Conference paper
Authors Berner Lindström
Ingemar Holgersson
Torgny Ottosson
Wolmet Barendregt
Published in Symposium: « Embodied and material aspects of cognition: implications for research and practice » Skriv! Les! The Nordic Conference on Writing and Reading University of Stavanger, Norway 30.05. - 01.06., 2011
Publication year 2011
Published at The Linnaeus Centre for Research on Learning, Interaction, and Mediated Communication in Contemporary Society (LinCS)
Department of Applied Information Technology (GU)
Department of Education, Communication and Learning
Language en
Subject categories Pedagogy


Fingers (or rather the hands and the fingers) are important in doing mathematics. They are a primary example of the embodiment of mathematics and important in children´s development of basic arithmetic competences, for example in counting and appreciating numbers. In some cultures, use of fingers for doing mathematics, also among adults, is part of the cultural historical heritage. Fingers are tools that allow the representation of both cardinal and ordinal aspects of natural numbers. They are also important in relation to children’s’ subitizing (that is, the immediate recognition of cardinality). Furthermore, they are both visual and haptic by nature.   In the perspective of children´s learning and development, fingers as representational tools are pivotal both as means of doing mathematics and in communicating mathematics with adults and peers. Studying how children use fingers and hands in doing mathematics is thus important in order to understand children’s learning and development of arithmetic skills. Such an enterprise should also give insight into the more general problem of the embodiment of cognitive symbolic actions, and the relationship between symbolic and physical tools.   In the context of the CoDAC project (Conditions and tools for the development of arithmetic competences), financed by the Swedish Research Council, we explore how fingers are used in two kinds of interrelated activities. One is children playing a mathematical game, with an interface that is specifically designed for answering by ”finger numbers”. The other is children solving simple arithmetic world problems, presented in a communicative setting with an adult. We will primarily present analyses of patterns and strategies of finger use and discuss what this means for the understanding and theorizing about children’s arithmetic competences and how they are learned and developed.  

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