Teaching Subtraction Using a Balance

I love finding nifty ways to use tools for teaching math. Especially tools that aren’t supposed to teach math. Or at least the math I’m trying to get it to teach.

I have this very cool balance that I got from Discovery Toys that would normally be a science toy. But, alas, I’m a mathematician, Jim, not a doctor. So I’ve taken the fancy science toy and turned it into a way to teach subtraction.

You can, of course, use it to teach addition and later I’ll do a post on using it to teach multiplican and division.

If you have children who struggle with math concepts, teaching them with hands on bits (manipulatives) sometimes helps.┬áHere’s how to teach subtraction using a balance:

This nifty trick can be done with any balance as long as you have weights appropriately sized. Sometimes that’s not so easy to find. Order the colorful Measure Up! Balance from the video here. It includes the set of weights!

Did it work? How did your children receive this method of learning arithmetic? Please share your experience with it in the comments!



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6 Responses to Teaching Subtraction Using a Balance

  1. I like your idea of using of the balance – it’s beautifully visual, but I would hesitate to call what you’ve done subtraction. Of course, it’s formally equivalent to subtraction, but this to me looks more like the “missing number”, or complementary addition flavour of the operation, which is not necessarily understood as the same thing by a young learner. i.e. To me, you’ve demonstrated the formal equation 5 + ? = 12, rather than the concept of 12 – 5 = ?.

    • Thank you for your thoughts, Stacey.

      As you’ve pointed out, 5 + ? = 12 is the same thing as 12 – 5 = ?. If we tell a young learner that they can’t understand this, then they will believe us.

      They can understand this. Actually, they are much better at understanding this than we are. They have not been socialized out of understanding what is inherent to them.

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