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.


  1. I definitely agree with you in regard to doing the same old thing gets boring and old. Fast. Students need to have different methods and strategies for learning so that they are able to retain the information given to them. They need to be in charge of their own learning rather than being in a seat for 7 hours taking notes upon notes. The students don't know how crucial the math is at a young age because they don't think that it applies to them at the time being. Little do they know that they may in turn grow up to be mathematics teachers. By giving them these strategies the students will be allowing more information in for their futures without even realizing it.

    1. I really enjoyed how you connected the number line game idea to the importance of having students learn in a variety of ways. The active nature of the number line game gets students thinking on their feet which is more applicable to every day lfie than always answering at a desk. The excitement that games like the number line game bring gets me excited to become a math teacher! I totally agree about the usefulness of number lines too! In calculus I used them all the time for finding the maximum and minimum of functions, and seeing where the slope changed positively and negatively. Additionally, I remember using number lines for inequalities as well and I think, with a big gators mouth added in, could potentially be key for students to see inequalities on the number line as well.

  2. So is variety just for variety's sake enough? Was there value to the human number line besides variety? (Would it impact understanding at all?) Or is variety linked to student learning besides through engagement? (complete)
    clear, coherent, content, consolidated +
    Totally believe the doodling.