Engaging students: Adding a mixture of positive and negative numbers

In my capstone class for future secondary math teachers, I ask my students to come up with ideas for engaging their students with different topics in the secondary mathematics curriculum. In other words, the point of the assignment was not to devise a full-blown lesson plan on this topic. Instead, I asked my students to think about three different ways of getting their students interested in the topic in the first place.

I plan to share some of the best of these ideas on this blog (after asking my students’ permission, of course).

This student submission comes from my former student Rachel Delflache. Her topic, from Pre-Algebra: adding a mixture of positive and negative numbers.

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How could you as a teacher create an activity or project that involves your topic?

An activity that could be helpful for engaging students in engaging in addition and subtraction would be Snakes and Humans. The activity is done using red and black counting tiles—the red representing humans (positive integers) and the black representing snakes (negative Integers). The activity begins by letting the students know that whenever one snake meets one human they leave together (i.e. cancel each other out). After the introduction is given, a series of addition problems can be given. After the student are comfortable with the addition problems, more challenging problems can be given such as 5- (-3) or 5 humans minus 3 snakes. From this point, the students have to figure out how to take away three snakes when they are only given 5 humans to begin with. The trick is that they have to add three human/snake pairs to the original group of humans before they can take away the three snakes, which results in them ending with 8 humans. This activity is beneficial in engaging students because it allows them to explore addition and subtraction of negative and positive integers without the anxiety that seeing traditional math problems may cause students.



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How does this topic extend what your students should have learned in previous courses?

This topic builds on students prior understanding of addition and subtraction of positive integers. Adding a negative integer can be introduced as subtracting a positive integer, which is something students should already be comfortable with. By equating it to something the students already know, it allows the students to have more confidence in their abilities going into the lesson After the students have mastered adding a negative number, the lesson would be able to move onto subtracting a negative number, a more unfamiliar topic to the students. For this part of the lesson, an activity like the one above could be use to allow the students to discover that subtracting a negative integer is the same as adding a positive integer and why. The benefit to building on a procedure that the students are already comfortable with is that it allows the students to be more comfortable going into the lesson.


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How can technology be used to engage students with this topic?

One website that can be used to help engage students is http://www.coolmath-games.com/. While this website does not have instructional aspects, it does have games that are centered around math. One such game was Sum Points, in which the player tries to make the total points on the board equal to zero by adding and subtracting different numbers. The benefit of this website is that it allows students to sharpen their abilities in adding and subtracting integers without feeling like they are doing math. Students tend to enjoy using computers, and playing games on the computer tends to be a favorite for students. This tool gives them the pleasure of playing on the internet, while also allowing them to stay on task with learning.


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