Negative thinking for positive results

Sinny Mole

The weekly lesson plan review meeting of Math teachers was in progress. According to the plan the chapter on negative numbers was scheduled for the forthcoming week. We usually organize a meeting of math teachers to discuss innovative teaching techniques that can be applied in the classroom. The meeting helps pool different teaching ideas, standardizes the teaching methods and thus brings the teachers together on a common platform to challenge any learning difficulties that may arise in their classrooms. I was happy to note the active participation of the teachers in sharing their classroom experiences and also in seeking solutions to the difficulties encountered in previous occasions.

number-line Before the meeting, I did some homework and listed out the probable learning issues that teachers may face. I could foresee some common difficulties that children would encounter in the mathematics operations of negative numbers. These issues were discussed at the meeting.

One of the major misconceptions that children have is that when you add numbers, the answer is always a bigger number. But this is not the case with negative numbers.

For example, when you add 6 and 4 you get 10, which is a bigger number. This is crystal clear to children. But this is true only if you’re working with whole numbers. Children have only been seeing and working with numbers that run from zero and up. So, a new lesson situation may confuse them making them think that math rules change all the time. This is why some children become frustrated and disconnected.

In many classes, children have a good procedural knowledge to perform math operations. But their misconceptions while working with positive and negative integers are due to the fact that they try to remember and apply rules that they don’t understand. Each child brings prior knowledge into a lesson and that knowledge can greatly influence what he or she gains or loses from the experience.

When dealing with negative numbers, children may not understand that -15 is smaller than -5 although 15 is bigger than 5. Teachers should think how to teach children and help them understand these concepts.

The author is Assistant Coordinator, Primary-2, K D Ambani Vidyamandir, Reliance Greens, Jamnagar. She teaches math to the primary classes and conducts in-house training for teachers. She can be reached at sinnymolepm@yahoo.in.

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