Discovering Decimals Part 3: Multiplication and Division

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

This is the last part of number operations dealing with decimals: multiplication and division in a concrete and pictorial method. This is actually not part of the KG-5th grade OAS standards, but it is addressed in 6th grade and for those of you utilizing the CCSS, you will find multiplication and division with decimals starts in 5th grade.  Or you may have advanced students who are ready to explore this concept. There are a couple of freebies included in this post. Read on to find them!

Multiplying Decimals:

Typically we teach our students that when you multiply 2 numbers together, the product is larger than the 2 factors. And when we divide two numbers, the quotient is smaller than the dividend.

Be careful about stating this generalization: This remains true when multiplying whole numbers (or even a combination of whole and decimal such as 5.2 x 6.4 = 33.28 in which the product is larger than either factor), but NOT with decimals or fractions less than 1 (example: .7 x .2 = .14 in which .14 is less than either factor .7 or .2). With division of decimals less than 1, the answer is often a whole number larger than either the divisor or the dividend (such as 5 divided by 1/2 = 10). This is a difficult concept, but modeling and practicing with concrete and pictorial models helps to see the reasoning. So, be careful not to say, “When you multiply two numbers together you always get a bigger number.” because it’s not always true.

To further understand this principal, let’s look at the use of the times (x) sign with whole numbers. The problem 5 x 2 could be shown in an array as 5 rows with 2 in each row (phrased as 5 “rows of” 2).  It can be shown in a set model such as 5 groups and each group has 2 (phrased as 5 “groups of” 2) . It can also be shown in an area model (box) as a shape divided equally into 5 rows and 2 columns (phrased as 5 “by” 2). Continue reading

Discovering Decimals Part 2: Addition & Subtraction

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Last week, we looked at some ways to gain number sense about decimals. This post will address using decimals in the operations of addition and subtraction . . . and how to model concretely and pictorially. You can also download the color grid pages along with a free decimal math game in this post. Part 3 (future post) will address multiplication and division of decimals.

If you missed last week’s post, please review it first before continuing with this one. Before performing various operations with decimals, students must have a basic understanding of how to represent them concretely, pictorially and numerically.  Example:  .8 = .80 can be proven with base ten blocks and with 100 grid drawings. This understanding should also be linked to fractions: 8/10 is equivalent to 80/100. Click here for pdf of Representing Decimals page.


For concrete practice, use a 100 base ten block to represent the whole (ones), the tens rod to represent tenths, and unit blocks to represent hundredths. Construct each addend and then combine them. Ten tenths’ rods become one whole. Ten hundredths cubes become one tenth. Continue reading

Number Lines and Rounding

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

I get requests from many teachers to help with instructional strategies regarding rounding, so I am happy to share my thoughts (and freebies) with you. Difficulty with rounding usually means students lack number sense. The essential goal of rounding is: Can you name a benchmark number (whole, tens, hundreds, thousands, tenths, hundredths, etc.) that a given number is closer to? I have found the more experience a student has with number lines, the better they will be with number sense, and the better they are with rounding to the nearest ___.  Then this rounding practice must be applied to real world problems to estimate sums, differences, products, or quotients.

When doing a google search for tips on rounding (ie Pinterest), you very often find an assortment of rhymes (such as “5 or more let it soar, 4 or less let it rest”) and graphics showing underlining of digits and arrows pointing to other digits. These steps are supposed to help children think about how to change (or round) a number to one with a zero. Many students can recite the rhyme, but then misunderstand the intent, often applying the steps to the wrong digit, showing they really don’t have number sense but are just trying to follow steps.

My answer (and that of other math specialists) is teaching students how to place any number on a number line, and then determining which benchmark number it is closest to. Continue reading to see examples and get some free activities.

Continue reading