“They’ll Need It for High School” (Part 3)

I’m picking “TNIFHS” back up. At the end of Part 1, I promised Part 2 would answer “What are the big ideas in elementary school mathematics that students will need for high school?” Instead, I talked times tables.

In this third half, I’ll refocus on these big ideas. Or one of them — one that came up in that initial “they’ll need long division for high school” conversation.

More than the standard algorithm, what students will need is an understanding of division as sharing (finding the number in each group) and measuring (finding the number of groups). More generally, what students will need is an understanding of the fundamental meanings of all four operations.

Here’s part of a task I presented to my secondary math colleagues:

Evaluate, or simplify, each set of expressions. Make as many connections as you can conceptually & procedurally, pictorially & symbolically.

fundamental meanings of all four operations

Sticking with division, in this task (−6) ÷ (+3) was chosen to bring to mind sharing (3 groups, −2 in each group) whereas 6/5 ÷ 3/5 was chosen to evoke measuring (3/5 in each group, 2 groups). (This often leads teachers themselves to revisit 6 ÷ 3.)

division

(−6) ÷ (+3) as sharing (top) and 6/5 ÷ 3/5 as measuring (bottom)

Flexibility is key. Consider (−6) ÷ (−3), 6/5 ÷ 3, 6 ÷ 0.3, 0.6 ÷ 3, 6x ÷ 3, 6x ÷ 3x, etc. (Note: division of fractions & integers are high school topics in Western Canada.)

(I’m not saying that dividing by a fraction — or decimal fraction — always means measuring. You can think sharing, which can be challenging. Andrew Stadel’s estimation jams are my favourite examples of this. How long is “All Along the Watchtower”?

4082414_orig

Did you see 2/3 in the picture? Did you divide by two, then multiply by three? In other words, did you invert and multiply? What’s the meaning of 2:40 ÷ 2/3 in this context?)

The subtraction set above is interesting. Teachers pick up that the expressions are variations on a theme: five “take away” two. Their pictorial representations tend to show subtraction as removal: “if you have five apples/quarters/x‘s/square root of two’s and I take away two…”

282px-Subtraction01.svg

Pictorial representations that show subtraction as comparison (the “difference”!) are less frequent, but maybe more helpful.

subtraction

5/4 − 2/4 as removal (top number line) and comparison (bottom number line)

Consider (+5) − (−2). To “take away” negative two from positive five means introducing zero pairs whereas the “difference” between positive five and negative two means understanding that positive five is seven greater than negative two.

This second meaning is probably more meaningful in high school. For example, subtraction as removal reduces (1.89t + 15) − (1.49t + 12) to an exercise in collecting like terms whereas subtraction as comparison has students contrasting rates of change (e.g., cost per additional pizza topping) and initial amounts (e.g., the price of a plain cheese pizza). Similarly, if F_1(C) = 9/5C + 32 and F_2(C) = 2C + 30, then (F_2 − F_1)(C) compares conversions given by an estimate and the formula. When solving |x − 5| = 2, it’s more helpful to ask “What numbers differ from five by two?” than think missing minuends in take away problems.

Addition and multiplication — as well as other big ideas needed for high school such as proportional reasoning (or “multiplicative thinking”?) — will be addressed in future posts.

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Math Picture Book Post #7: Bean Thirteen

A few ago, I was invited to teach a lesson on division (Grade 3). First, I read Bean Thirteen aloud – once just for fun. About Bean Thirteen, from the author:

Ralph warns Flora not to pick that thirteenth bean. Everyone knows it’s unlucky. Now that they’re stuck with it, how can they make it disappear? If they each eat half the beans, there’s still one left over. And if they invite a friend over, they each eat four beans, but there’s still one left over! And four friends could each eat three beans, but there’s still one left over! How will they escape the curse of Bean Thirteen?

(A funny story about beans, that may secretly be about . . . math!)

Bean Thirteen

Next, we revisited several of the pages. I asked students to write an equation to match the picture. I modelled this using magnetic “bean counters.” For the page above, students suggested 2 × 6 + 1 = 13; I introduced 13 ÷ 2 = 6 R 1. We discussed and recorded the meaning of this:

13 divided by 2

In pairs, students then chose their own number of beans (counters) and built different division as sharing stories for this number. They recorded (.doc) their stories using pictures, numbers, and words:

SDEC1-4124-14052811560

SDEC1-4124-14052811561

I called on students to share their stories with the class. They observed that some numbers gave remainders more so than others; Bean Thirteen can also be used to explore even/odd and prime/composite numbers.

This lesson served as the students’ introduction to division. I wrestled with the decision to introduce remainders at this time. An alternative problem – one consistent with both the prescribed learning outcomes and recommended learning resources – might be to start with 18 beans – a “nice” dividend – and share equally among 2, 3, 6, and 9 bugs – “nice” divisors. Note 15 ÷ 3 = 4 R 3 (and 15 ÷ 2 = 6 R 3) above. This mistake would not have happened had I not introduced remainders. I wonder if including remainders makes it more difficult for students to understand division and relate division to multiplication.

Then again, children will have already experienced remainders in everyday contexts.

[TMWYK] Aero Bubble Bar

Recently, Nestlé launched the new AERO bubble bar throughout Canada and the UK.

For the benefit of the American readership:

cta_aero_bubblebar

Ten-frame!

From the press release:

As well as offering a unique bar design, guaranteed to stand out from the crowd, AERO’s innovation isn’t just for show. The new design sees the bar divided into ten easily snappable ‘bubbles’, making it less messy to eat and more portionable. What’s more, each of the ten ‘bubbles’ are designed to melt more easily in the mouth, maximising the taste of AERO’s signature bubbly chocolate.

I brought one home a couple weeks ago. I put the bar’s portionability to the test.

ow2adI snapped off two bubbles each for Keira (5), Gwyneth (8), and Marnie (N/A). Plus, two for me. (Missed math teacher opportunity, I know.) Two pieces were left over. “How much more should we each get?” I asked.

“Half,” Keira answered. She told me to make two cuts: two becomes four, or n(Keira’s family). For shits and giggles, we played with different cuts. What I learned from Keira:

the halves and the halve nots

“Or two-quarters,” Gwyneth piped up.

“Huh?” I returned, caught off-guard. “Tell me more,” I recovered. Gwyneth told me to cut each of the two bubbles into four quarters, giving us eight quarters. Eight pieces can be shared equally between four people. Each of us should get two pieces, or two-quarters.

Gwyneth’s strategy–divide each piece into fourths rather than make four pieces in all like her sister–surprised me. It’s a strategy that makes sense to her: dividing each piece into fourths means she’ll be able to form four equal groups. It’s a strategy that’s flexible: I don’t think she’ll be fazed by a curveball, like an additional bubble or family member.

Symbolically, we have:

0002W4

The result is trivial; her thinking is not.

For more math talk with kids, please follow Christopher Danielson’s new blog.

Multiple Multiples

“Can you show me another way?”

Multiple representations show students there is more than one correct way to do the math. This is an important message in itself.

Multiple representations also allow students to learn new mathematical concepts and procedures.

For example, division can be thought of as sharing or grouping.

8 ÷ 2 = 4 can be thought of as:

  • I have 8 items. I share them equally between 2 people. Each person gets 4 items.
  • I have 8 items. I put them in groups of 2. I can make 4 groups.

I prefer the adjective flexible over multiple. Adaptability of, not number of, is what is important.

To learn how to divide integers and fractions, students must be able to visualize both representations.

For example, -8 ÷ 2 can be thought of as sharing equally between 2 groups. Each group contains four negative counters. However, -8 cannot be put in groups of +2.

Alternatively, having a negative number of groups does not make sense. However, -8 can be put into groups of -2.

Think about why 6 ÷ ½ is 12 (without simply applying the invert and multiply rule). Having a fraction for the number of groups doesn’t make sense. However, students can explore how many halves there are in 6 using pattern blocks or number lines.

3 × 2 is more than simply 3 groups of 2.  An understanding of an area model of multiplication helps students to learn two-digit multiplication.

An understanding of this model will help students make connections between multiplying binomials and multiplying two-digit numbers.

As a secondary department head pointed out a meeting last year, teaching how to multiply binomials may be easier than teaching how to multiply two-digit numbers – in algebra, there isn’t the added complication of place value.

Now if only we would stop using the term FOIL…