1) My first goal is to get students to be able to add integers. Like many teachers, I use integer tiles to represent integers concretely:

I tell students that this is the most important concept: if the red tile represents negative 1 and the yellow represents positive 1, then together they make the eponymous 'zero pair'. Anytime they see a zero pair, it represents a value of 0 (even though you see two tiles).

I then ask students to use the tiles to represent quantities such as ¯3 and 5:

I then give other examples for the students to work:

One of the things I'm aiming to do here is to get students to visualise the solution. For example, in the fourth question above, students (who were using tiles for the first three questions) were able to picture (mentally or with a bar model) 19 yellow tiles pairing with 19 red tiles (giving 19 zero pairs) leaving 4 red tiles, or negative 4.

After enough of these examples, I ask students to complete this statement:

*Adding a negative is the same as ...*2) Once we have established that adding a negative is the same as subtracting a positive, I then like to show how we can use a number line to show this:

Some students really like this way, others less so but I let them choose what method works best for them.

3) Subtracting integers can also be modelled with integer tiles but I've always liked to introduce it in this way. First, I call up three students and give each of them four cards. Two of them have cards numbered 1 to 4, whilst the third has cards numbered ¯4 to ¯1. I then tell a really, really corny joke such as "What do you call a fly with no wings? A walk!" and ask the students to give me a mark for my joke. For example, I might get this:

I feign disappointment at the student who has given me a negative score and the class has a good laugh about this. We then get my total, in this case 4+2+¯3 gives 3. At this point, I make a strong protest against the student who has given me a negative score to such an extent that I demand that this score is removed and I 'escort' them to a corner of the room. Again, laughter all round. I then go back to the remaining students:

I then ask the students what my 'new' score is and they tell me 6. I then say, "We started with 3 and ended with 6. But what happened in between?" The response is usually "You took away the negative 3." I then write down what they have said:

I repeat this for a couple more bad jokes then ask them to look at the results and ask them to complete this sentence:

*Subtracting a negative is the same as...*
Again, before too long, the consensus is that subtracting a negative is the same as adding a positive. This is mind-blowing for some students and I tell them that I can understand why they might find this counter-intuitive but this is because they have always believed that subtraction makes smaller. However, the activities have shown that subtracting a negative will make a number larger: like it or not, we cannot argue with this beautiful mathematical logic!

It is possible to model this with integer tiles:
Notice that we cannot 'take away' negative 3 because we do not have three red tiles in our model. We can overcome this though, by adding enough zero pairs:

Now we can take away the negative 3:

Some students like this approach, others less so. Either way it reinforces the big idea that subtracting a negative is the same as adding a positive. This is so much better than saying 'two minuses make a plus'. Once again, I follow this up by getting students to try some questions that will wean them off the concrete and getting them to think diagrammatically and abstractly.

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