Susan Midlarsky

author • consultant • tutor | inspiring excellence
Homeschool Singapore Math US Education

Why Long Division Makes No Sense


One of my favorite humor bloggers is Allie Brosh, author of Hyperbole and a Half. I’ve been catching up on reading her posts lately, and this one caught my eye tonight: Hyperbole and a Half: Long Division Isn't Real. (If you visit the link, just be forewarned that she uses the f-word once in her post.)

This is how she describes her mom’s attempt to teach her long division in fourth grade, the year Allie was homeschooled. (Her actual post contains an awesome drawing about it too, so visit it if you can):

My mom was like “First, you draw a line with a little hang-y tail!  Then you write the big number inside the little half-box.  Then you write the little number on the outside!  Now, divide the the little number into the littlest part of the big number that is at least as big as the little number.  It probably won’t fit exactly, but that’s okay.  Figure out how many times it fits all the way and write that number on top of the box.  Now, write the number that the little number does fit into underneath the number that it doesn’t fit into and subtract them.  Then draw a line.  Then write your answer under the line.  Then bring the next number in the big number down next to the number you just wrote.  Then hop on one foot and punch yourself in the face while singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star… “

Does that sound familiar?

That’s the pitfall of trying to teach the “how” of long division before the student understands the concept.

Teaching students division the Singapore way – by starting with place value disks and understanding what division is, working with the concept, and gradually connecting it with the algorithm, along with learning alternative ways of dividing – has been a life (mind?) saver for my students learning to divide.

Do you have a story about long division?

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