PUFM 1.4 Subtraction

Photo by Martin Thomas via flickr. In this Homeschooling Math with Profound Understanding (PUFM) Series, we are studying Elementary Mathematics for Teachers and applying its lessons to home education.

When adding, we combine two addends to get a sum. For subtraction we are given the sum and one addend and must find the “missing addend”.

— Thomas H. Parker & Scott J. Baldridge
Elementary Mathematics for Teachers

Notice that subtraction is not defined independently of addition. It must be taught along with addition, as an inverse (or mirror-image) operation. The basic question of subtraction is, “What would I have to add to this number, to get that number?”

Inverse operations are a very fundamental idea in mathematics. The inverse of any math operation is whatever will get you back to where you started. In order to fully understand a math operation, you must understand its inverse.

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Game: Target Number (or 24)

[Photo by stevendepolo.]

Math concepts: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, powers and roots, factorial, mental math, multi-step thinking
Number of players: any number
Equipment: deck of math cards, pencils and scratch paper, timer (optional)

Set Up

All players must agree on a Target Number for the game. Try to choose a number that has several factors, which means there will be a variety of ways to make it. Traditionally, I start my math club students with a target of 24.

Shuffle the deck, and deal four cards face down to each player. (For larger target numbers, such as 48 or 100, deal five or six cards to each player.) The players must leave the cards face down until everyone is ready. Set the remainder of the deck to one side.

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Do Your Students Understand Division?

Cheerios by sixes
[I couldn’t find a good picture illustrating “division.” Niner came to my rescue and took this photo of her breakfast.]

I found an interesting question at Mathematics Education Research Blog. In the spirit of Liping Ma’s Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics, Finnish researchers gave this problem to high school students and pre-service teachers:

  • We know that:
    498 \div 6 = 83.
    How could you use this relationship (without using long-division) to discover the answer to:
    491\div6=?
    [No calculators allowed!]

The Finnish researchers concluded that “division seems not to be fully understood.” No surprise there! Check out the pdf report for detailed analysis.

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Contig Game: Master Your Math Facts

[Photo by Photo Mojo.]

Yahtzee and other board games provide a modicum of math fact practice. But for intensive, thought-provoking math drill, I can’t think of any game that would beat Contig.

Math concepts: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, order of operations, mental math
Number of players: 2 – 4
Equipment: Contig game board, three 6-sided dice, pencil and scratch paper for keeping score, and bingo chips or wide-tip markers to mark game squares

Set Up

Place the game board and dice between players, and give each player a marker or pile of chips. (Markers do not need to be different colors.) Write the players’ names at the top of the scratch paper to make a score sheet.

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30+ Things to Do with a Hundred Chart

[Photo by geishaboy500 (CC BY 2.0).]

Are you looking for creative ways to help your children study math? Even without a workbook or teacher’s manual, your kids can learn a lot about numbers. Just spend an afternoon playing around with a hundred chart (also called a hundred board or hundred grid).

My free 50-page PDF Hundred Charts Galore! printables file features 1–100 charts, 0–99 charts, bottom’s-up versions, multiple-chart pages, blank charts, game boards, and more. Everything you need to play the activities below and those in my new 70+ Things to Do with a Hundred Chart book.

Download Free “Hundred Charts Galore!” Printables

Shop for “70+ Things To Do with a Hundred Chart” Book

And now, let’s play…

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Hit Me! (A Math Game)

Photo by paparutzi.

Math concepts: addition, subtraction, negative numbers, mental math, absolute value
Number of players: any number
Equipment: math cards (two decks may be needed for a large group)

Set Up

One player (the dealer) shuffles the math cards and deals one card face down for each player, beginning with the player on his left and proceeding in turn around the table. Then he deals one card face up beside each face down card.

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How to Teach Math to a Struggling Student

photo by MC Quinn via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Paraphrased from a homeschool math discussion forum:

“Help! My daughter struggles with arithmetic. I guess she is like me: just not a math person. She is an outstanding reader. When we do word problems, she usually has no trouble. She’s a whiz at strategy games and beats her dad at chess every time. But numbers — yikes! When we play Yahtzee, she gets lost trying to add up her score. The simple basics of adding and subtracting confuse her.

“Since I find math difficult myself, it’s hard for me to know what she needs. What’s missing to make it click for her? She used to think math was fun and tested well above grade level, but I listened to some well-meaning advice and totally changed the way we were schooling. I switched from using workbooks and games to using Saxon math, and she got extremely frustrated. Now she hates math.”

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Subtracting Mixed Numbers: A Cry for Help

Photo by powerbooktrance.

Paraphrased from a homeschool math discussion forum:

“Help me teach fractions! My son can do long subtraction problems that involve borrowing, and he can handle basic fraction math, but problems like 9  -  5 \frac{2}{5} give him a brain freeze. To me, this is an easy problem, but he can’t grasp the concept of borrowing from the whole number. It is even worse when the math book moves on to 10 \frac{1}{4}  -  2 \frac{3}{7} .”

Several homeschooling parents replied to this question, offering advice about various fraction manipulatives that might be used to demonstrate the concept. I am not sure that manipulatives are needed or helpful in this case. The boy seems to have the basic concept of subtraction down, but he gets flustered and is unsure of what to do in the more complicated mixed-number problems.

The mother says, “To me, this is an easy problem” — and that itself is one source of trouble. Too often, we adults (homeschoolers and classroom teachers alike) don’t appreciate how very complicated an operation we are asking our students to perform. A mixed-number calculation like this is an intricate dance that can seem overwhelming to a beginner.

I will go through the calculation one bite at a time, so you can see just how much a student must remember. As you read through the steps, pay attention to your own emotional reaction. Are you starting to feel a bit of brain freeze, too?

Afterward, we’ll discuss how to make the problem simpler…

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Nim Revisited

Photo by Sister72.

Dave at MathNotations offers another version of Nim that will give your students something to think about:

[1,2]-3-[4,5]-6-[7,8]…21 Helping Children Devise and Understand Winning Strategies

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Euclid’s Game on a Hundred Chart

Math concepts: subtraction within 100, number patterns, mental math
Number of players: 2 or 3
Equipment: printed hundred chart (also called a hundred board), and highlighter or translucent disks to mark numbers — or use this online hundred chart

Set Up

Place the hundred chart and highlighter where all players can reach them.

How to Play

  • Allow the youngest player choice of moving first or second; in future games, allow the loser of the last game to choose.
  • The first player chooses a number from 1 to 100 and marks that square on the hundred chart.
  • The second player chooses and marks any other number.
  • On each succeeding turn, the player subtracts any two marked numbers to find and mark a difference that has not yet been taken.
  • Play alternates until no more numbers can be marked.

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