How To Help Your Child Understand Elementary School Integers Or Negative Numbers
Sometimes I use
Intergers are hard. Intergers, I would say, are the single hardest math concept that children have understanding. And part of the problem is that we've gone five or six years teaching them you can never subtract a bigger number from a smaller number, and suddenly now you can. So before you could never do five minus seven, and now you suddenly, you can and the answer's negative two, and you've never heard of a negative two, and what's going on? So a couple methods I use to talk about it. One is sometimes I use a thermometer and I say 'okay, it's five degrees and now the temperature's dropped seven degrees', and draw the lines on the thermometer, and they can count them down. You can also use a number line if the thermometer is confusing or just too much work to draw. Use a number line and literally make them hop and let them go past zero. And there's a lot of times when going past zero is a hard thing for them to do. I talk a lot about money with intergers, too. I'll say, 'look, when you're adding and subtracting with intergers you're just combining two quantities, so a positive is money that you have in your pocket, a negative is money that you owe.' So if you have six dollars but you owe eight dollars--and my vernacular is 'where you're at'--where are you at? You know, where are you? 'Oh, well I owe two.' That's right, that's a negative two. When you owe money, that's a negative two. And for some kids that really clicks. For other kids, it's hopeless and we go back to the thermometer and we'll go back to the number line and sometimes it just takes a lot of practice and a lot of work.