Saturday, September 22, 2012

Good Day or Bad Day? (Adding Integers)

I love this clip from Seinfeld where Kramer describes what happens at the dinner table when you're married. It would seem that one of the worst parts of marriage is the time when you talk about your day. Was it a good day or a bad day? Eventually this became the inspiration for how I chose to teach integer operations.

I used to teach adding integers with gang violence. There were two gangs (positives and negatives) who would fight and kill each other. The only problem with this metaphor was that it was only really good for adding integers. It didn't help me teach some of the other operations (subtracting a negative, negative times a negative).

I also had the problem of offering students too many ways to think about adding integers. I used gang violence, money, number lines, drawn positive/negative signs, and the boring rules. But it was way too much information. I was trying to offer my students choice, but many were becoming confused.

So I'd like to say that I have one way to explain integers, and it all has to do with having a good day or a bad day. I start the lesson off by showing this slide:

I ask my students how they know if they've had a good day or a bad day. What kind of things could help you move to either side of the spectrum? I then use specific examples, always in pairs (see below). I use little arrows to indicate which way we are moving on the happy face (soon to be number) line.

The first two examples are pretty obvious. If two good things happen, then it's a good day. If two bad things happen, then it's a bad day. 

This third scenario (the lost cell phone) had some debate. Maybe the loss of a cell phone was a good thing...perhaps this would convince your parents to buy a new/better phone. But the point was to show that when a bad thing happens, and then an equally good thing happens, you end up back where you started. It was neither good nor bad.

The kids laughed at this one. Not sure why hamster death is so funny. Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of the two scenarios that made the second seem so ridiculous. But this is exactly what I wanted. Sure, it was nice to find the dollar. But your hamster is dead. Finding the dollar does not make up for the fact that your hamster died, so overall, it was a bad day.

And finally, the lost/found money. This last scenario transitioned into the use of a number line (at which point my students thought, "Oh, so this is a math lesson").

Where do I go next? Basically negatives are bad things that happen and positives are good things that happen. If more bad things happen, it's a bad day. Or if there are more negatives, then the answer is negative.

I can easily see how I can relate this now to subtracting and multiplying. Taking away bad things helps make your day better (subtracting a negative). When bad things happen over and over again, it is a bad day (positive times negative). Taking away bad things over and over again makes it a good day (negative times negative).

Nathan Kraft


  1. Great low-entry point. It's funny that your students finally figure out that it's a math lesson. Hello, you're in math class silly kids! This is definitely a solid discussion to have with kids about values. I like how you tied it to money at the end which helps with the transition from the abstract to concrete. I'll be sure to test this out with my kiddos this year. Thanks man!

  2. Great reading, it´s interesting to see how different people react to the statements you made. Here is some info on Signs that you not having a Good Day .