In the recently released draft of the Common Core Standards, there is a noticeable emphasis on linear models such as number lines. I have discussed how many Japanese textbooks use double number lines to discuss multiplication and division of fractions, as well as some proportional problems. However, the Common Core Standards also include a model that is called "tape diagram." In their glossary, "tape diagrams" is defined as follows:
In an earlier post, I discussed how a tape diagram may help children represent addition and subtraction situations. The primary purpose of such diagrams is to help students decide the appropriate operation, that is addition or subtraction. However, Japanese textbooks also use tape diagrams, or segment diagrams, to deal with problems in upper grades, too.
Consider a problem like this one:
For this problem, you can use a diagram like the following:
From this diagram, we can see that the total number of cars are made up of 4 equal segments, one of which is equal to the number of trucks and the other three are equal to the number of cars. Since the four segments are equal, we can divide 156 by 4 to find out how many cars each segment represent.
Here is another problem:
This problem can be represented as follows:
From this diagram, students can determine that 115 is made up of 5 equal segments since the last short segment is a half of the other segments, each of which is equal to the number of students at School B. So, 115÷5=23 represents a half of School B. Thus, the number of students at School B is 46 students. The number of students at School A is 23x7=161.
You might notice that these problems can be easily solved if we use algebra, but having diagrams such as tape/segment diagrams, students can develop the foundation for solving these problems algebraically.
There are other types of problems for which tape/segment diagram may be useful. Consider this problem:
You can represent this problem using a tape/segment diagram like this:
From this diagram, we can tell that the number of students this year should be 100-24=76% of last year's student population, 475. Thus, we can find the answer by multiplying 475 by 0.76. Alternately, we can subtract 475x0.24 from 475, too. [Click here for a discussion on how double number lines may be used with problems involving percents.]
What we need to keep in mind about these representations is that they are supposed to be students' thinking tools, not just teachers' explanation tools. In order to help make these representations as their own thinking tools, these representations have to be carefully taught. In the Japanese textbooks, they start building these linear models starting in Grade 2 and help students experience increasingly more complicated representations gradually and systematically. I believe the emphasis on linear models in the Common Core Standards is important, but just showing these models to students will not automatically produce positive results.