Q&A #19200

Negative numbers

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From: Claire (for Teacher2Teacher Service)
Date: Jan 02, 2008 at 13:18:40
Subject: Re: Negative numbers

Hi, Dave --

Thanks for writing to T2T -- and for understanding that we do children a
great disservice by telling them we can't subtract a larger number from a
smaller one!

It's important for children to understand that there are numbers less than
zero, and how those numbers work. I live in northern New England, so the
natural application that children experience is the temperature scale,
probably the most useful connection for teaching negative numbers. Do you
have a thermometer to show the class? It's about 20 degrees F as I write
this, but the temperature is expected to dip by 30 degrees overnight!

A number line that includes numbers less than zero is also helpful. Realizing
that the numbers are symmetrical around zero, and that there is a
corresponding number below for every one above, are important concepts.

You might try introduce a scenario of a child wanting to buy something that
costs $3, but only having $2. Is there a way they can buy it? Borrow a dollar
from a sibling or parent, which they will pay back. They owe $1.

I hope this is helpful. Please write again if you have more questions.

 -Claire, for the T2T service

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