What Do You Think a Decimal Is?

During a recent visit to a third grade classroom, I was tickled by students’ responses to a question on the morning message chart. The class was about to begin a unit of study on decimals, and the teacher was curious about what students already knew about the topic. She asked them, “What do you think a decimal is?” Here are some of the responses:

  • a decimal is a ramp that goes up
  • a decimal is part of a math problem
  • a decimal is a machine that helps build houses or build cars
  • that you been bad
  • a short sign for cents
  • I think a decimal is two groups of 10
  • I think decimal means to dilute something
  • a decimal is like a period but for money and numbers

Now I’m headed back to that same classroom, and I hear they’re at the end of the unit on decimals. The teacher told me she plans to pose the question again, alongside the first responses, and to use it as a springboard to talk about all the students have learned about this topic. I can’t wait to hear what they’ve learned!

Babs Freeman-Loftis is a Responsive Classroom consultant and coauthor of Responsive School Discipline. She was assistant head of the lower school at the University School of Nashville for nine years.

Tags: Engaging Academics, Math