Adding with the Number Line

Focus Exploring the properties of addition and
developing mental computation skills
basic view of addition is one of “joining” or “counting on” from an initial amount. This process is easily modeled with single blocks on number lines. This approach works well for small numbers and helps to further students’ understanding of addition and the development of mental computation strategies. Examples in this section all result in sums less than 100 in order to fit on the labeled number lines. For work with larger numbers, use the 0–1000 number line or several unlabeled lines clipped together. The unlabeled lines are particularly appropriate for students who are ready for a challenge.



® Joining Blocks on the Number Lines
To demonstrate, present a story problem such as the one that follows.

Keith has 38 blocks. Shana has 17 blocks. How many do they have when they put their blocks together?
Ask two volunteers to model the story problem with number lines. They will place 38 blocks on one line and 17 on another line, and then combine the blocks on one line. This can be done most easily by simply sliding the entire row of blocks from one line onto the end of the other line. Some students, however, may prefer to count the blocks one by one. After the volunteers have found the answer, ask,

What number sentence can you write to represent this situation?
When students have agreed to the sentence 38 + 17 = 55, make sure they can relate the numbers and signs to their actions with the blocks and to the story problem.

Students repeat this activity in small groups, placing 50 or less blocks on two separate number lines and then sliding them together on one line to find the total number. Once familiar with the task, students should record their actions. Students will often use the words join and add as they

To combine 38 and 17 blocks on two number lines, students slide them together on a single line so they reach 55.


describe their work, and some may write addition number sentences. Students can then tell their classmates what they did and share their recordings.

® Exploring the Commutative Property
Present a card with the number 45 written on it and ask one student to show that number of blocks on a number line. Give a second student a card with the number 23, and have the student place that many blocks on another line. The second student then slides those blocks onto the first line and tells the number in all. Ask,

What number sentence can you write to represent this action?
To establish the connection between joining and separating blocks on the line, ask the second student,

If you took your blocks back to your line, how many would be left here?
Have the student remove the blocks and check. Then ask the first student, If this time you take your blocks (pointing to line of 45) and put them on this line (pointing to the line of 23), how many blocks will there be on the line? What

number sentence can you write to represent this action?
Again, have students place the blocks to check. Provide several more examples. Encourage students to predict the outcome before they take back or join the blocks and eventually to generalize that changing the order does not change the sum (a + b = b + a).

® Addition with More Than Two Addends
Present an example such as 23 + 16 + 45. Ask students how they might use number lines to find the total. The process is the same; they represent the three numbers separately and then join them on one line. Have students experiment with the order in which they join the numbers to further generalize that regardless of the sequence, the sum is the same. Reordering addends is a useful mental computation strategy. To encourage this, have students find the solution to examples such as 27 + 14 + 53. Ask them to discuss which order for these addends works best for mental computation, and why.


® Predicting Totals
As students continue to represent addition examples and story problems on the number line, encourage them to think about what the result will be before they combine the two groups of blocks. Initially, students may use their hands to approximate the length of the second quantity and then think about increasing the first amount by that length. Some students may note the number of longer hash marks (tens) in the second quantity, and count up from the first number by that amount. You might also provide a benchmark, asking questions such as,

Will there be more or less than 60 blocks when you put these two groups together? Why do you think so?
Finally, ask students to predict exact outcomes before they combine the blocks. Students can place markers on the line to show their predicted answers. Begin with examples that do not require regrouping, such as 27 + 30 and 26 + 32. Then challenge students with examples such as 67 + 28 and 16 + 28 + 34. Invite students to explain how they arrived at their predictions. Students then place the blocks to check. With more than two addends, encourage students to examine the order in which they add. Ask,

Do you get the same answer regardless of the order in which you add the numbers? Are some orders easier than others? Why?
Through repeated opportunities to predict exact answers before actually combining or counting the blocks, students develop good number sense and mental computation skills. Such abilities take time to develop, but they are very valuable in real-world situations. Encourage students to participate in the problem-solving process of predicting answers correctly, and ask them to explain their process for doing so.

Practicing Key Ideas
Together in a Line
Write numbers less than 25 on index cards, one number per card. Students work in groups of two to four. Each student turns over a card and shows that number on a separate number line. Students then combine the blocks on a single number line and record the corresponding number sentence. With more than two addends, students can take back their blocks and join them in a different order. They can also identify which order they find easier and why.


Predict Exactly
Students play in teams of two players, each team having 50 blocks and a number line. Each team places some of their blocks on a separate number line. Together, the two teams decide on whose line to combine the blocks. Each team places a marker on that line to show how many they think there will be when the blocks are combined. Together the students place the blocks to check.

Assessing Learning
1. Ask the student to show 57 on one number line and 36 on another line. Then say,

Show me how to combine these blocks and find the number in all. Then write a number sentence to record your work.
Does the student • read the total number from the line or recount the blocks? • correctly identify the total? • correctly write the corresponding number sentence? 2. Present the example 24 + 58 and ask the student to find the answer using the blocks and two number lines. Then ask the student to find 58 + 24 and explain his or her thinking. Does the student • model the process correctly? • find the correct answer? • immediately realize that the answer to the second example is the same, or use the blocks to find the answer? • clearly explain his or her thinking? 3. Have the student represent 46 + 28 on the number lines. Before having the blocks combined, ask,

If you place these blocks on the same line, where do you think they will end? Why do you think so?
Have the student combine the blocks to check. Repeat with a different example, this time using the unlabeled side of the line. Does the student • predict correctly? • do so on a labeled and unlabeled number line? • clearly explain his or her thinking? 4. Present a story problem. For example:

At the field day, 29 boys and 38 girls entered the sack race. How many children entered the sack race?
Does the student • use the blocks and number line to find the answer? • answer correctly?


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