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Subject:  Integer Arithmetic with Signed Numbers 
Author:  Craig 
Date:  Jun 16 2005 
Project (60's70's era "new math")... the idea of "Postman Stories."
Imagine living in a crazy apartment building where the postman delivers either
bills (negative) or checks, but not very carefully. Imagine a resident who
immediately adds received mail to her ledger, without regard to whether it
belonged to her.
So, one day the postman delivers a check for $4, a check for $19, and a bill for
$7. The resident's ledger showed a balance of $10. Upon receipt of her mail,
she immediately enters +4 +19 and +(7) to get a balance of $26 (I hope).
Everyone's happy.
Except the next day, the postman delivers a check for $3 and a bill for $10, but
informs the resident that he needs to take back the bill he gave her yesterday,
because it was supposed to go to another resident. No problem... add a check
and a bill and take away a bill goes into the ledger as +3 + (10)  (7).
Is the resident happy or sad that the postman is taking a bill away?
Multiplication comes into play when the postman delivers several checks for $3
[pos*pos], or several bills for $9 [pos*neg], or takes away several checks
[neg*pos] or takes away several bills [neg*neg]. Which of these situations make
the resident happy?
We usually give students a string of signed number arithmetic and have them
write down the corresponding postman story:
3(2) + 1(4) + (6) + (1)(8) translates to receiving 3 checks for $2
each, giving back one check for $4, receiving a bill for $6, and giving back a
bill for $8.
 
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