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3-5 Exploring Subtraction


with the

Larger Blocks

Focus Exploring subtraction with the two-place

n this section, children separate groups consisting of blocks-of-10 and single blocks. Once they understand the separating process, they separate groups of blocks that require unpacking (regrouping) to find the difference. Children use the Counter as tool for this process. Children should work repeatedly on the tasks in this section, separating collections of blocks in various amounts. Through your questions and their representations of the work, children begin to predict outcomes of the process. Keep in mind that many of the ideas in this section must be developed over an extended period of time. The text that follows suggests a way in which the Digi-Block materials can be used to introduce an algorithm for subtraction. You may choose to be more or less directive than is suggested here. Note that these ideas can be expanded for use on the three-place Counter with children who are ready for a challenge.

Separating with the Counter

Have a Counter, two number lines, single blocks, holders, and blocks-of-10 available for this demonstration. First have two volunteers demonstrate how to find 26 14 by using the number lines. Make sure all children agree that the answer is 12. Record the answer for later reference. Tell the children that they are now are going to do this same problem with the Counter. Have a volunteer load the 26 single blocks (or pack and then load them) onto the Counter. Ask,

What would we do to take 14 away?

Have a volunteer remove the blocks from the Counter and place them on the table in front of the Counter. As with addition, it is fine if children begin with the blocks-of-10 instead of the ones. Ask a volunteer to set the dials to show the number of blocks left on the Counter and tell the difference. Have children identify the 1 block-of-10 and 2 single blocks. To make sure the children recognize that this is the same answer, say,

First we found 26 14 with the number lines. What was the answer? Then we used the Counter. What was the answer? Why did we get the same answer each time?
Have children clear the blocks and cover the dials on the Counter. Now they are ready for more examples, such as 28 15 and 18 7. Have children again subtract in two ways, using the number lines and using the Counter. Help children to recognize that the answers are the same no matter which technique they use.
removing 14 to the table, and setting the dials to show how Children can then explore additional many are left. examples or story problems with only the Counter. At this very introductory stage, it is best not to include examples that require regrouping. However, do include an example with no ones, such as 80 30, and make sure that children set the dial for the ones place as well as the tens place. Children can model 26 14 by loading 26 blocks on the Counter,

Unpacking to Find How Many

When children have experienced success with taking blocks from the Counter, putting them on the table, and then setting the dials to tell the amount left on the Counter, have them try an example that requires regrouping. For 32 17, for example, children first represent 32 on the Counter, and then must remove 17 from this amount. If children have had ample prior experience packing and unpacking blocks, they will realize the need to unpack a block-of-10. Some children, however, may just take away the 2 singles that they see and not be sure what to do next. In this case, ask,

Where could you find more single blocks on the Counter?

When children recognize the need to unpack a block-of-10, they may be confused about where to place it. After all, they learned from previous activities that they cannot have more than 9 blocks in any one position. Explain to the children that they can temporarily place more blocks while they are solving the problem. To help children organize this process, encourage them to take the lid off the block-of-10 and set the holder crosswise above the holder on the ones rack. Ask,

How many ones do you have now?

Children will probably have different ways to remove the 7 blocks. They may take them all from the holder above, or take the 2 original blocks in the ones

place and then 5 more from the holder on top. In either case, make sure that only one holder remains in the ones rack after the blocks have been removed. Encourage children to model their techniques for others to see. Children should also represent their work. They can use drawings, stamps, or numbers. Children should have many experiences separating groups of packed collections with story problems as well as with examples written in both vertical and horizontal When regrouping is necessary, children can open a block-of-10 form. Include examples with and without and lay it crosswise in the ones place. regrouping so that children are involved in a decision-making process. Remember to have the children remove the blocks to the Counter mat, not just return them to a container. This helps to emphasize the concept of subtraction and allows both them and you to check that they have removed the correct amount. Asking questions while children work helps them to think more explicitly about the process. For example, ask,

Why are you moving that block-of-10? Where will you put that block-of-10? Why? Do you think you will have to unpack this time?
When children are ready, you can have them use the Two-Place Recording Sheet (Activity Sheet 7). When more advanced children work with the threeplace Counter, they can use Activity Sheet 8. While solving story problems, children can record the examples on these sheets. Or, you can provide examples for the children by writing in numbers on the sheet before photocopying.

Predicting the Difference

Children need many opportunities to separate collections of blocks. The ability to model a subtraction example and find the difference by separating the blocks is a terrific achievement for young children. After much practice, ask them to represent just the beginning total and then predict how many will be left after the appropriate number of blocks are moved to the Counter.


For example, with children working at the Counters, present the example 53 21 and ask the children to stop once they have represented the 53. Then say,

Set the dials to tell how many there will be when the 21 blocks are moved to the Counter mat.
Once the dials are set, the child covers them and then moves the 21 blocks to the Counter mat. (Covering the dials keeps the numbers from distracting the child.) The child then looks at the blocks that remain on the Counter and uncovers the dials to check the prediction. Once the child has experienced success with examples that dont require regrouping, present an example such as 34 19. When predicting, a child might first set the dial for the blocks-of-10 at 2, then change that dial to 1 after looking more closely at the number of single blocks to be removed. Note that when predictions are checked and found to be incorrect, the children can simply reset the dials to show the actual number of blocks on the Counter. Again, it is important that children are comfortable making mistakes and knowing that they will improve with practice. When (and only when) children can consistently predict the result of separating the blocks before they physically perform the task, are they then ready to work without the blocks. Having internalized the representations and expectations, the children will no longer need the actual blocks.

Practicing Key Ideas

Take It Away
Write some numbers on index cards, one number per card. Children work in pairs.They each turn over a card and decide which number is larger.They show the larger number with blocks on the Counter.The other number is the amount they must remove to the table. Children can represent their work with a number sentence. Children then clear their work, pick two new cards, and begin again.

Predict on a Counter
Children work in pairs with one Counter. Provide them with subtraction examples written on index cards that they can place on the whiteboard. The children represent the original amount on the Counter. Then they predict the number of blocks that will be left once they have separated the blocks and set the dials to show their prediction. Children then cover the dials, remove the blocks (unpacking when necessary), and uncover the dials to check their predicted answer.


Assessing Learning
1. Set up the Counter mat at the foot of the Counter and cover the dials. Have the child show 35 on the Counter and say,

Show me how to take away 12 of these blocks and find the number that is left. Please tell me what youre thinking as you work.
Does the child model the process correctly? set the dials to show the correct difference? explain his or her thinking clearly? 2. Present a written example such as 42 26 in vertical form and say,

Show me how to use the Counter and Counter mat to find the difference. Please tell me what youre thinking as you work.
Does the child model the process correctly? set the dials to show the correct difference? explain his or her thinking clearly? 3. Present the example 28 17. Ask the child to show the 28 on the Counter. Say,

Before you move these blocks to the Counter mat, set the dials to show how many you think will be left on the Counter. Tell me how you decide.
After the dials are set, the task should be performed physically to check. Does the child predict the correct total? self-correct, if necessary? explain his or her thinking clearly? 4. Present a story problem such as the one suggested for the children to solve with the blocks.

Malika has 36 blocks. She gives 21 blocks to her friend. How many blocks does Malika have left?
Does the child use the Counter and Counter mat? model the problem correctly? predict first? find the correct difference