Skip to content

Vignette 23.1

Arithmetic Ripples

6/5 & 11/77

Miriam does not yet recognize the existence of negative numbers. The typical problem this causes her was shown as we rode home from buying a Sunday paper (the children go with me to buy chewing gum). Miriam was discussing making change with Robby. She knew that paying for a 15¢ pack of gum with a quarter involved a ‘take-away’ problem. She asked Robby (getting the formulation backwards):

Miriam How much is 15 take away 25?
Robby 10.
Miriam That’s not right. I made a mistake. I said 15 take away 25.
Robby Minus 10, like 10 below (cf. Protocol from the series on Robby’s arithmetic development).
Bob Does that make any sense to you, Miriam?
Miriam No. You can’t do that. That’s like 1000 take away 7000. You can’t do it.
Robby 6000 below.
Bob Does that make any sense to you?
Miriam No.

6/11 Today was one of those terrible days. Gretchen and I had bad headaches. The weather was foul, rain for two days running when the forecast had been for a bright weekend. The children played inside all day; they played chase with the dog. And finally, Miriam is mad at me.

Late in the afternoon, she came to me: “Daddy, I’m mad at you for two reasons. You didn’t do any arithmetic with me today, and you told me it was going to be sunny.” I promised to do some adding (she said then both adding and subtracting) on the morrow and disclaimed all responsibility for the weather.

A little later, Miriam found Robby willing to talk about arithmetic. The two entered our reading alcove with this conversation:

Miriam 10 times 10 is 35.
Robby No, Miriam (counting on his fingers), ten 10’s are a hundred. Isn’t that right, Mommy? (Gretchen confirmed his result).
Miriam It can’t be. 5 times 5 is 25, so 10 times 10 is 35.

As Robby went on to other affairs, Miriam asked me, isn’t that a big number? I can add three thousand and thirty five (cf. Vignette 17, 5/30). Upon my responding that the number was something like that, she suggested we look in my notebook. We found there the number 3132 as an addend (cf. Home Session 4). I promised that she could learn to add some more big numbers.


These three incidents point to three separate themes that will be developed in future arithmetic sessions with Miriam. I intend to confront her, gradually, with situations which will require her inventing the negative integers. I intend to introduce her to ‘times’ as counting in non-unary increments. I intend to reveal to her that what she has learned of adding already (in Home Sessions 4 and 6) permits her to add all big numbers.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email