Dear Elementary Math Teachers, | Grade 2 Hullabaloo: Dear Elementary Math Teachers,

Monday, July 6, 2015

Dear Elementary Math Teachers,


You're in for a treat and some warm fuzzies! My friend, and former principal, Beth Ferguson, has written a special post just for elementary math teachers. It connects the hard work that we do to her work with high school students. She and I share a passion for math. Whether math intimidates you or excites you, I think you'll find her post very enlightening.

My hat is off to elementary teachers!  I have much respect for the work that they do in teaching a wide array of subjects to young children.  Nurturing children’s curiosity, fueling their love for learning while laying the foundation for reading and math are huge tasks!

Early each year I introduce sets of numbers to high school students.  So that my students understand that our course isn’t in a vacuum, but built on the foundation they already have, I use a routine that goes something like this:

“When you were a little bitty child, your parents wanted you to be so smart!  They taught you to count, 1, 2, 3.  You repeated dutifully, 1, 2, 3!  Your parents were so proud!  “My baby can count!” they exclaimed.  We call those numbers the set of counting numbers

Then you got to school and your first grade teacher read you a book about zero, maybe Zero the Hero; and you learned that zero added to any number did not change the value of that number.  Zero makes a difference though in the set of numbers!  No longer just the counting numbers, zero introduces the natural numbers, 0, 1, 2, 3…. 

In grade 3, your teacher made a big deal about fractions.  You acted out the story in The Doorbell Rang to divide cookies; she read the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar Fractions Book and you divided the candy bar into parts.  In high school we call the fractions rational numbers.  All counting and natural numbers are rational numbers!

In grade 6, your teacher introduced you to the number line again, this time with the book, Less Than Zero.  You learned about negative numbers.  The positive and negative numbers together are called the set of integers.

All along you had been learning about multiplication, division, and decimals.  In grade 7, your teacher read the book, Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi.  You measured circles, diameters, divided and discovered a common ratio.  Maybe you memorized as many digits of pi as you could. Your teacher pointed out that pi as a decimal never ends.  In high school we call numbers like pi (and the square root of non-square numbers) the irrational numbers.

So we have … the counting numbers, the natural numbers, the integers, the rationals, and the irrationals … all of these put together create the set of REAL Numbers!  Your elementary and middle school teachers taught you all about these various sets of numbers.  They laid the foundation for our study where we talk most often about this set of amazing REAL numbers!”

At this point, a student almost always asks, why “real” … are there numbers that aren’t real?  And of course, there are the imaginary numbers.  But that’s information for another post.

I share this routine with you to remind you that your work is significant!  Your passion for numbers, patterns, problem solving – the intricacies of math – make a difference!  You already know that, but this high school teacher wants to say, “Thank you!” for sharing your knowledge and expertise with young learners, and especially for sharing your passion for math!

One last thought … if you want to connect with me, I’d be honored to talk math with you!  You can find me on Twitter @algebrasfriend or on my blog, Algebra’s Friend!

Holub, J., & Lichtenheld, T. (2012). Zero the hero. New York: Henry Holt.
Hutchins, P. (1986). The doorbell rang. New York: Greenwillow Books.
Murphy, S., & Remkiewicz, F. (2003). Less than zero. New York: HarperCollins.
Neuschwander, C., & Geehan, W. (n.d.). Sir Cumference and the dragon of pi: A math adventure.
Pallotta, J., & Bolster, R. (1999). The Hershey's milk chocolate bar fractions book. New York: Scholastic.

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