For many years I dreaded having to teach my 3rd graders the Distributive Property of Multiplication. They just always seemed to struggle!
Then one day I had an idea that changed ALL of that and teaching the Distributive Property has actually become one of my FAVORITE math lessons of the year!
What’s my secret you ask?
The Distributive Doctor
more on Doctor D. in a little bit...
But first, let's talk about planning... I like to block out a few days (usually 3-4) in order to provide my kiddos with plenty of practice at all 3 levels of instruction: concrete (using manips), pictorial (making drawings), and abstract (using numbers).
We begin by...
Manipulatives are key in order for students to be able to "see" and truly understand this property. So we use them quite a bit in the beginning!
I'll start off by having my students show me an array. (This step is usually easy, since we've already learned about multiplication and arrays.)
Next, I tell them that we're all going to be distributive doctors or surgeons for the day! They LOVE this! I even refer to them as Dr. Smith or Dr. Rodriguez :0) You should see their faces light up when I call them all doctors!!!!!
Our first "operation" as newly named Distributive Doctors is to use our scalpels, otherwise known as popsicle sticks, to cut our arrays.
Using an EXPO marker, I have them write on their desks a multiplication expression for each of the arrays. (Don't worry, the writing comes off easily with a tissue.)
At this point we spend some time discussing that we haven't added or taken away any counters so the number of bears we started with has not changed. What has changed, however, is how we've decided to group them.
Next, we add both arrays together to find the total. We repeat this a few more times and practice "breaking apart" the arrays in both horizontal and vertical directions.
The following day we practice some more!
Drawing Pictures is next... Once I feel the majority of my class has mastered breaking apart with counters, we move on to pictorial representations. We follow the same steps we practiced above, the only difference is that students are no longer using manips., but instead drawing pictures.
You can make things interesting by using a Q-tip and paint. The key is to provide plenty of time experimenting with the Distributive Property so that students become comfortable with it.
You can even set up a center with supplies such as graph paper, scissors, colored pencils, and glue sticks.
One of our favorite activities is Doctor D. You can check it out by clicking here.
Using Numbers is the last step. Now that students have had plenty of practice visualizing the Distributive Property, it's time to remove the support.
Some students will reach this level sooner than others and that's okay. The goal is for all kids to receive PLENTY of practice and support in the beginning, so that by the time they get to the abstract level of understanding they get what's going on. All of the hard work and time that was put in in the beginning will pay off in the end!
I hope sharing how I tackle the distributive property with my own students has helped you find a few new tips for your OWN bag of tricks!
Many of the resources used in this post come from my
Distributive Doctor resource which can be found here.