Saturday, January 26, 2013

The dreaded equal sign {=}

Phew!  I am just glad this week is o.v.e.r!  There is always a bit more stress during report card time and then to add my principal observation... well that was the icing on the cake! :)

Doesn't having your "boss" in give you mixed emotions?? I mean you want him/her to see all the great things you are doing...yet... they are well, your boss who has your job security in their hands.  I was happy to finally have my principal in to see my math block.  While he was in the room, I had my kids review equivalence which has been a grade level essential standard, building standard AND a district wide standard... yes, this is a biggie!  My class in particular S T R U G G L E S with this even still!  How many of your kids will answer this question in this manner:

3 + 4 = 4 + 11

My heart sank when about 80% of my students answered this question with 11 (after we had been working on it for a very.long.time!)  I learned that they just skip right over the equal sign and add all the numbers together.

Problems like this even throw them completely out of whack:

___= 8 + 4

Wait what?? you mean the SUM can be first??  Oh man... we have a lot more work to do on this.

So I told my students that we will be doing a problem or two every single day to practice the equal sign.

I wanted to share a few ways that I have been working on this with my Math Workshop groups.

I love to use a "scale" to show equivalence.  It looks like this:
 We talk about how it is a balance and that it has to be the "same as" on both sides of the equal sign.

I'm sorry I don't have that exact scale to share so I made another one for you (image from Discovery Education)

(click to grab)

We first talk about how the equal sign just means that whatever is on one side has to be the same as the other side.  I use cubes to represent numbers first.

We also talk about what it means to be "not equal"

Then I start adding numbers to show the balance of the equal sign.

Then I start adding equations.

Only some are ready for problems like this.  That is why I love my Workshop groups because I can differentiate my groups depending on their readiness for these type of problems.  It is amazing how complex the problems can get!

This is just another way to show equal and not equal.  AND how important it is to show children that the SUM can be first-- this is so tricky for them!

Another activity I had my kids do is they thought of a simple addition equation leaving off the answer.  Then we switch the boards so that the person next to them had to answer the problem.

Of course most would answer in this way:

But a select few would answer in this way:

It was then that I knew that I had gotten to them. Ahhh the feeling of VICTORY! :)

I made a poster for you that I hope you might be able to use.  I will be hanging it in my room for the rest of the year! :)

Finally, this concept has inspired me to add a BONUS to my almost finished word problem pack- SET 2:

To see Set 1 click {HERE}

Oh man am I SOO excited about this new set!!  The problems are much more difficult (by customer request) and I will be adding pages like this:
Just copy the page, cut it up and the kids have instant practice... and the problems are already figured out for you!! :)

This pack SHOULD be ready in a few days- hopefully!!

How do you approach the "dreaded equal sign"??  I'd love to hear your ideas! (yes I need help!!)


  1. I love this! The scale idea is great! Thank you for sharing some great tips and ideas on helping explain a tricky concept to kids!

    Primarily Speaking

    1. Thanks so much Aimee! The addition of the scale this year has really added that visual that the kids needed! :) Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Have you read, Outliers? It discusses the issues with our language in math like, "equals" and how detrimental it can be to our understanding of key math concepts. I don't even use the word, "equal" after reading that book. Now I just say, "is the same as." It really has made a difference!


    Learning With Mrs. Leeby

    1. Wow, good point! That is exactly why I work so hard on this concept!
      With the Common Core the kids need to know the word "equal" but with all our extra practice it has helped! Thanks for the book recommendation!

  3. LOVE this! What a fabulous idea. This will help my kiddos so much. While reading your post I was just nodding my head in agreement the whole time. I have such a hard time with those same issues. Your scales idea is perfect. Thanks so much Tori!
    Sarah's First Grade Snippets

    1. Thanks Sarah! I know, this is SUCH a hard concept... we will continue to work on it! Glad the scale will help! :) Hope you and the family are doing well!

  4. I love the visual using the scale! I will use this idea at the beginning of next school year when I introduce this concept. Thanks for the great tip! :)

  5. Great idea! I am using this example in my credential math class!