Teaching the Distributive Property to Young Learners
When I began to teach my students how use the distributive property as a strategy to find the answer to a multiplication fact I wasn’t really sure why I was teaching this strategy to my students. Well, I decided to give it my best shot. At first I struggled to make the connection to multiplication but then I realized that the connection was the arrays and the number bond that the students were required to create as a model for the multiplication equation.. So, I decided to create a sheet that connected these two skills. At first my students struggled with the number bonds because they were not use to using two totally different skills to solve one problem. So, before I taught the process of the distributive property I taught them how to use the number bond to find all the different ways to create numbers 5-9 using a number bond.
After practicing with the number bonds and the arrays I introduced the students to the sheet that I created that connected the two skills. It was a rocky start, but after about 2 days of using the number bond as tool in the distributive property process it began to make more sense to students and the teacher! While I was teaching the distributive property I realized that my students did not have a cemented understanding of the purpose of an array. This really concerned me because arrays are the foundation of multiplication.
To give my students more practice with the distributive property and arrays I gave each student a multiplication equation to solve using the distributive property. This time instead of drawing the array they had to use centimeter grid paper to create the arrays and then break the original array apart to demonstrate the distributive property.
I was so amazed and proud at the same time when my students were able to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the distributive property at a 3rd grade level. Teaching the distributive property to 3rd graders is totally different that teaching it to 7th graders. As I reflect on the 5 years that I taught middle school math I can see how teaching the distributive property as a strategy for multiplication will benefit students when they get to middle school. This skill not only gives meaning to multiplication facts but it helps students look at numbers in a different way.