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2-6 Finding Differences

Focus Predicting the outcome of separating groups of

blocks,and finding differences without the blocks

n the previous section, students modeled subtraction with the blocks and Place mats. Through your questions and their recordings, they reflected on this process. In this section, they predict what will happen when they separate the blocks. Students should repeatedly separate collections of blocks of varying amounts. The goal is to consistently predict the result of any separation before they physically perform the task. This focus on prediction will lead to successful work without the blocks. When the representations and expectations are internalized, the actual blocks become unnecessary.

Predicting the Difference

As a demonstration, present the example 459 125. Have volunteers record the subtraction example on the whiteboard and then represent 459 on the Counter. Ask,

How would you set the dials to tell how many will be left when the blocks are removed?
As with addition, students set the dials and then cover them so as not to confuse their thinking while they separate the blocks. After removing the blocks to the Counter mat, the students uncover the dials to check their prediction. Repeat with an example that requires regrouping. Note that during the process of separating, students may self-correct. When predicting the difference of 452 238, for example, a student might first set the dial for blocksof-10 to 2; then, after looking at the numbers in the ones place more closely, change the tens dial to 1. Checking predictions with the blocks promotes this self-correction. Students follow a similar procedure when working with a Place mat. Present an example such as 364 232. Have the students stop once they have represented 364 and say,

Set the Digit Flip Cards to tell how many blocks will be left on the mat after you remove 232.
Students then turn the f lip cards face down (similar to covering the dials on the Counter), remove the blocks indicated, and turn the cards face up again to check their predictions. Repeat with an example that requires regrouping, such as 452 129. When regrouping is involved, students may find it helpful to record, at the top of the mat, the number of blocks in a place once new blocks have been regrouped.

The image of blocks in a holder often makes it easier to predict the number of blocks that remain in a column. Thus, you might have students place the blocks in holders when working on the Place mats.

Developing Recording Schemes

As when learning addition, students need to connect their physical work of separating the blocks to conventional recording techniques or to their own ways of recording their actions. Again, you can develop meaning for conventional approaches by asking questions such as,

How can you show that you have opened a block-of-100? How can you show where you placed the 10 blocks-of-10?
Some students find it more meaningful to create their own recording technique first. Students who approach the problem in different ways with the blocks will likely create different recording schemes. Following are two examples. The first is from a student who works left to right, self-correcting as the need to regroup becomes apparent. The second is from a student who takes away the ones from the regrouped ten and combines the remaining blocks with the original ones.

6 3 /5 2 1 7 4 /2 8 1 8


6 /3 5 2 1 7 4 1 8

2 / 10 3 +

Activity Sheet 3 can be used to help students keep track of the places for the digits while they are working. Whatever format students are using, provide time for them to show their recordings and explain their thinking to one another. When students are comfortable with their invented recordings, you can present a traditional approach and ask,

Who can figure out what this person was thinking?

Working Without the Blocks

When students are able to consistently predict outcomes when separating blocks and are able to record their work, they can begin to subtract without the blocks. Present a written example in vertical form and ask students to find the difference using paper and pencil or mental computation. As with addition, the blocks should still be available in case students want to check their thinking or to explore a more challenging example. Provide time for students to explain or write about their techniques.

It is important that students continue to use their number sense and mental image of the blocks to judge the reasonableness of their results. For example, you might present 368 121 and ask,

Do you think the difference will be more or less than 200? more or less than 100? Why do you think so?
You can introduce estimation of differences as the process of reporting only the biggest blocks to tell about how many are left. You can also present an example such as 601 289, which will likely prompt a few students to consider rounding before estimating. Other students may reason, 600 minus 200 is 400, but there are almost 100 blocks-of-10 to take away, so Ill estimate 300. Again, encourage students to explore a variety of techniques and to maintain their ability to work f lexibly with numbers. Finally, present students with a challenge. Ask students to imagine bigger and bigger blocks, and Counters and Place mats with more and more columns. Ask,

Give students time to record and explain their techniques for subtracting without the blocks.

Suppose we were separating two very large groups of blocks, with some blocks in every column. What would we do?

Provide a subtraction problem with five- or six-digit numbers and ask,

How would you subtract these numbers?

While use of calculators is recommended for subtraction of large numbers, it is important that students be able to generalize. We want them to realize that they can subtract any two numbers they are given, by operating in each column in exactly the same way.

Practicing Key Ideas

Predict on a Counter
Students work in pairs with one Counter. The first student takes a collection of blocks, loads them on the Counter, and records the number on the whiteboard. The second student writes an amount below these digits to show the number of blocks in each place to take away. Students work together to predict the number of blocks that will be left once that amount is removed. They set the dials to show their prediction. They then cover the dials, remove the blocks (unpacking when necessary), and uncover the dials to check their predicted answer.


Predict on a Mat
Students work in pairs with one Place mat. The first student writes a subtraction example, and the second student places blocks to represent the first number on the mat. Students then work together to predict the number of blocks that will be left once the designated amount is removed. They set the Digit Flip Cards to show their prediction. Then they turn the cards face down, remove the blocks (unpacking when necessary), and turn over the cards again to check their work. The activity can be repeated with students taking turns creating the subtraction example.

Whats Missing?
Present a vertical subtraction example with the difference shown, but with the number to be taken away missing. Students first predict the missing number and then use the blocks to check.

845 593

Assessing Learning
1. With blocks and a Place mat available, present the example 347 139. Say,

Before you separate the blocks, set the Digit Flip Cards to show what you think will be left on the mat. Tell how you decide.
After setting the cards, the student should perform the physical task to check. Does the student predict the correct total? self-correct, if necessary? clearly explain his or her thinking? 2. Present a written example such as 306 148 in vertical form. Ask the student to find the difference without using the blocks. Have the student explain his or her technique. Does the student find the correct difference? clearly explain his or her thinking? 3. Present 387 193 in vertical form and ask,

Do you think the difference will be more or less than 300? more or less than 200? Why do you think so?
Does the student answer correctly? reason correctly? clearly explain his or her thinking?