The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Subtraction

I have written about the math curriculum I am using this year before. I really like the way it provides various strategies for mastering arithmetic concepts, the way it introduces geometry throughout the year, and the way the material “spirals” to review old material while simultaneously introducing new ideas.

The curriculum started with a unit on the foundations of multiplication with a brief introduction to division. After a short geometry unit on quadrilaterals, we started another arithmetic unit on addition and subtraction. After breezing through the addition lessons, we started working on subtraction this week. I initially expected that it would move as quickly as the addition work did, but I was surprised to learn that this was not the case.

While my students grasp the concept of subtraction and know the process, they do not have the automaticity on subtracting greater numbers that I would like them to have. So we took some time today to do some extra practice. After going over some review problems, I gave the students a practice worksheet that gave them time to really work on subtracting in a variety of ways.

The goal is not just for them to be able to do the operation quickly and accurately, but also with confidence. I firmly believe that the greatest delay in performing basic arithmetic operations comes from a lack of confidence in one’s skills. I saw this most clearly by the number of students who were using their fingers to count back when subtracting. It isn’t that using one’s fingers is a bad thing, mind you. Remember, our entire number system is essentially based on the fact that we have fingers–ten of them, to be specific. But it is a much slower process than simply knowing how to subtract.

We will keep working on this, of course, and revisit the concepts throughout the year. I have confidence in my own students and know that they can master subtraction. They just need time to practice!

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