Learning Activity: Addition and Subtraction with Negative Numbers

Our home has a split entry, with stairs going up from the front door to the main floor or down to the basement. We used these stairs today for a fun math activity: exploring addition and subtraction with positive and negative integers.

We numbered the stairs, starting with 0 for the entryway landing and using positive numbers for the stairs leading to the main floor and negative numbers for the stairs leading down to the basement. I made two dice out of colored cube blocks (more fun than small dice); one had the numbers 1-6 and the other had a + or – sign on each face–three of each. The children rolled both dice then went up or down the number of steps indicated. The goal was to get to either the top or the bottom of the stairs.

I wasn’t sure how long this game would hold their attention. It lasted longer than I expected: each time a child arrived at a “goal”, they wanted to start back at zero on the landing and see where they would go next. Jumping spider made it to the top of the stairs and set his sights on getting to the bottom–he wouldn’t stop playing until he got there. I finally had to modify the +/- die behind his back (I added extra – signs) so he could reach his goal, because everyone else had stopped playing and wanted to move on!

We’ve played a similar game before with a super-sized number line drawn on the sidewalk with chalk.

     

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7 Responses to Learning Activity: Addition and Subtraction with Negative Numbers

  1. maryanne says:

    What an excellent use of split-level stairs! How funny that Jumping Spider had to reach both the top and bottom of the stairs! Sounds like he’s good at persevering to achieve his goals =)

  2. Catherine says:

    Very cool way to illustrate positive and negative numbers!

  3. becca says:

    I love this! You really have the most amazing ideas for making math concepts that are generally taught in a pretty abstract fashion very concrete for very small kids. Brilliant. I always had a hard time picturing how the rules for adding positing and negative numbers worked–an activity like this makes all the difference! And hopping up and down stairs is even better than a plain old flat number line… =)

  4. Fabulous! My kids love stairs and math would make them even better! 🙂

  5. This was a very clever way to teach this concept! These type of stairs remind me of the home I grew up in. My kids love to take off with a game like this, too.

    By the way, thank you for your comment regarding youth orchestra. I think the problem with our teacher is that she is not likely to trust (regard favorably) those who don’t come out of the Russian school of music training. It bothers her that there might not be a competent (??Russian??) adult continuously correcting our kids’ posture, etc. while they are playing. She also thinks that a student’s playing gets sloppy (particularly the intonation) when they are playing in a large group and can’t hear their own sound due to all the other instruments around them. Maybe this is true? And finally, if everybody in orchestra is praising our kids for how well they are playing, and then when they go see her during lessons she is criticizing their bow control, posture, pitch, etc., might they question her teaching? (i.e. “everybody else thinks I’m playing great, why isn’t she satisfied?” turning into “I am tired of her not being satisfied” morphing into “she is too much of a perfectionist – I’ll find another teacher”.) Anyway, they have already decided to accept Chips into the 2nd from the most advanced orchestra, and it is even likely he will be concertmaster – he just has to play through a piece in August for them to decide on that. So we’ll see. I think participating will help both our kids feel good about their musical skills and provide another opportunity for our two homeschoolers to be in a group activity. I appreciate you taking the time and thought to encourage me on this. I hope we are doing the right thing. 🙂 Have a blessed Memorial Day weekend!

    • thegardener says:

      Congratulation to Chips–I think the orchestra will be a great experience for him. I hope his teacher is able to be supportive. It can be hard to let someone you have invested so much in move beyond your sphere of influence! I know your children have a strong relationship with their teacher, I don’t think the orchestra experience can change that. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend as well!

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