Front end addition (also called left-to-right addition) is one of the most powerful mental math strategies for teaching addition of 2 or 3-digit numbers. However, many people are confused by why it is important and why it can be more effective than traditional vertical addition.
It can be tough, especially with parents, trying to explain the rationale for using front end addition. This is especially true for those people who believe math strategies should remain how they used to be when they were children. However, this is usually due to being unaware. Once people see it in action, it usually does not take long to convert them to “believers” in the effectiveness of this strategy, as well as other mental math strategies. When I was teaching 3rd and 4th Grade, I had students who could literally solve an equation within seconds using front end addition.
The best part is that this strategy promotes real understanding. In an equation where you use the standard algorithm to solve it, you use a series of steps. This includes adding the ones first, carrying if needed, then adding the tens, carrying if needed, etc.
The standard algorithm does not encourage understanding of place value and number sense. For example, in the equation shown below, students are not encouraged to understand that the number 435 is made up of a 400, 30, and 5. Instead, this number just appears as a 4, a 3, and a 5, and that is how students work with it. They are simply performing the series of steps – adding a column and carrying if needed.
When you use front end addition, or left-to-right addition, students possess real understanding. To use this strategy, you add from left to right. So first you add the hundreds (400+200) to make 600. Then you add the tens (30+70) to make 100. Then you add the ones (5+8) to make 13. Lastly, you add 600+100+13 to make a sum of 713. I realize that this sounds like a lot of work and the illustration below looks confusing. But if you begin doing this, you will find that all of these steps happen in your head in a matter of a few seconds. It is effective, efficient, and it promotes real number sense understanding. This is SO important.
If you’d like resources that include the Front End Addition Strategy, I’ve included a few of my best-sellers below.
The Addition Station is a best-selling resource for teaching addition strategies. You’ll find the front end addition strategy in the upper grades Addition Stations. These Math Stations are self-paced, student-centered stations for the basic math strategies. Students move through the levels at their own pace, ensuring that they are always challenged, and working to their full potential. You’ll find that your students BEG you to do this (not joking)! Find the 1st and 2nd Grade Addition Stations HERE, and the 3rd and 4th Grade Addition Stations HERE.
This mental math strategy unit is designed ONLY for the Front End Addition strategy. Read more about exactly what’s included by clicking HERE or on the image below:
The Front End Addition unit is also included in the Mental Math Addition Collection, which can be found HERE or by clicking on the image below. This collection includes units for six of the most effective mental math strategies.