Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Human Number Line

One of my current classes is centered upon teaching middle school math - which looking back I now realize began a decade ago for me. Most of what and how I was taught, I honestly don't remember in much detail. However, I can recall that for the most part I was in my seat and taking notes - likely doodling as well. Maybe once in a while I remember forming groups, but really infrequently. 

During one of our past meetings as a class, we were introduced to the idea of using a human number line - a number line down the center/front of the classroom on which students could walk/stand. Our line was centered at zero and went from -15 to 15. As a class we illustrated by walking various equations and story problems. We played games that involved adding and subtracting of negative integers - trying to beat your opponent by making it to your end first (whether -15 or 15). Even as a college student it was enjoyable to work out how to play the games and interact with another in a different way. 

Instead of having students just sitting and taking notes, students can make connections between action/movement, visuals, and the math algebraically. For example, when given the problem 8-(-5), the student would begin on the number 8 facing the class, then turn toward the negative end of the number line (representing the subtraction) and then walk backwards (representing the negative number) 5 paces. The student would land on 13, the solution to the problem. In the process, students will begin to notice that subtracting a negative (though different) results in the same solution if you were to have added a positive 5. Other students in the classroom not walking out the problem can follow by using a printed out number line paired with an object to move (like a chip or plastic cricket). 

In addition, number lines are useful and helpful later on in students mathematics careers. Allowing them to become familiar with them and their usefulness, just gives students another tool with which to work. Such as later encounters with inequalities and graphing the solutions. 

Doing the same old, same old, is boring. The use of the human number line seems like a good way to break this. Students are up and moving, and shown through multiple modes of representation - connecting ideas and figuring out what works best for them.