During one of my recent 20 minutes of math play sessions with my 5 year old daughter, we played around with a number line. A number line is a really abstract thing, and without something to connect it to, it is nearly impossible for a young learner to understand. So we built this fun thing:

The conversation afterward was awesome! She could see that the more legos we had, the longer the line got, which meant we could talk about the value of the numbers.

That got me thinking that maybe we could build one that didn’t use similar sized objects for a number line, to help her understand that a number’s value will still be the same even if the object is a different size. That was when we came up with this one:

All of this building led to talk about sizes of things, grouping things, ordering and reordering, the value of numbers and so much more. It was a ton of fun to make both with the number representations and actual concrete objects!

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It seems to me that the number line is a basic building block – or, okay, lego base- to the understanding of the relationship of numbers. However over the years, when I am visiting schools doing my book arts work, I’ve asked kids I’ll ask kids something about their understanding of the number line and they have no idea what I am talking about. It seems to have gone out of fashion as an important idea of learn? It makes me so happy whenever I see that the number line is alive and well in some people’s minds!

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I’m bringing it back Paula! 🙂

The good news is, this is definitely something that is referenced often throughout the common core.

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I find many people assume kids understand the number line without ever letting them experience it. This would be an amazing activity for any young student to start building understanding of the number line.

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You are so right! I need to try this out with my third graders, I have plans to do it with fractions. 🙂

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I love this idea! I actually use a very similar method when teaching even vs. odd numbers. Thanks for sharing =)

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Thank you! I’d love to hear about how you use a number line with even and odd numbers. I am fascinated by all of these things, and I really feel like I am relearning a lot of math concepts through the eyes of my daughter.

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