Teaching Decimal Operations Doesn't Have to Be Boring

Decimal operations can be a boring topic for students since it typically requires a certain amount of drill and practice. There's just no way around it. But there are ways to make learning more fun by engaging students in activities which may make concepts more concrete and easier to remember.

Disclaimer: These activities are meant to complement, not replace, meaningful instruction of place value and number sense.

Taking Care of the Decimal Is Critical in Decimal Operations

A common mistake students often make is that they fail to take care of the decimal, sometimes ignoring it altogether. Certainly this demonstrates a lack of understanding of number sense, and we constantly strive to improve in this area.

A fun way to emphasize the idea of taking care of the decimal is to actually have them do it.

Flat black marbles which may be obtained from craft stores work very well as decimals. Each student is given a "baby decimal" and must "take care of it" for exactly one week, bringing it back with a "bed" which they have made for it.

This project not only helps students remember to take care of the decimal but also provides an opportunity for creativity and ingenuity.

Art may be used as a memory aid for adding and subtracting decimals

The use of art as a math teaching strategy may improve memory and almost always draws (See what I did there?) students into the learning. Often it is a refreshing change from the drill and practice which is typical - and necessary - in decimal operations.

The Snowman Buttons project helps students remember to line up decimals when adding and subtracting while they continue to deepen their understanding of place value (add/subtract whole numbers, tenths, etc.).

It is always a good idea to include some sort of writing component with each project so asking students to explain the purpose of the assignment supports literacy and establishes a clear purpose for the project.

Physical activity aids memory in decimal division

Physical activity may help learning and improve memory, and since the brain loves stories, I combined the two in this activity for decimal division.

Students generally have difficulty remembering the procedure when encountering decimals in divisors so I tell them that when there is a "boulder" at the entryway of the problem (divisor) that they are "locked out" of the problem. Then I ask them to step into the hallway (momentarily) and lock them out. (They love it!)

When I open the door (almost immediately!!) I place a coal stress ball in the doorway and ask them to figure out a way to get back into the classroom.

They can't go around or pick it up because I tell them it is too big. Someone always suggests that they kick it out of the way, and I call upon that person to do so, gaining us entry into the room.

When we come back into the room I demonstrate the procedure for "kicking the boulder" out of the way the same number of times in both divisor and dividend. I also explain that what they are actually doing is multiplying by a power of 10.

Then for practice each group is awarded a "boulder" and upon encountering a problem having a decimal in the divisor, they may take turns kicking it (gently!) as many times as necessary for both divisor and dividend.

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More Baby Decimal projects

More Snowman Buttons project

See also

Teaching Math With Art

Art in Education


Aesthetics in Learning

Composite Figures

Geometry Terms