What is up with 0? It is nothing, nada, zilch. So why spend time thinking about nothing?
While playing a game with dice (labeled 0-5 each), pre-schoolers had no trouble thinking about zero as nothing.
Student (rolls a 0 and 5): 0 and 5 is still 5!
Me: Why is it 5?
Student (now rolling eyes): Because you added nothing to 5, so it stays 5. You didn’t do anything to it! (Duh…Mrs. M!)
Playing the same game in Kindergarten. Out of 20 students, only 2 (one being my son, since he already struggled with it at home and had made some headway with clarifying what happens when you add 0) students were okay not changing the value of the addend when added to 0. The others added at least one more to their addend, or just sat there and said they lost a turn because they got a 0. ????
Why the struggle?
Students use their instincts when learning. While playing (without formal teaching), the preschoolers made sense of the zero. When you add nothing to a number, it stays the same (AKA Additive Identity Property). However, this ‘sense-making’ was left behind once (I will use my son as the example) Chris started learning addition. He figured out that when you add numbers, the value changes. Every problem he did resulted in a larger value than the two addends. Mama, it gets bigger as you add. When he rolled a 0, he couldn’t make sense of that with his understanding of what addition IS. We had to roll LOTS of 0’s before he finally clicked that adding nothing doesn’t change the other addend.
What Can You Do?
Allow you child to play with a die that has a 0. Allow them to make sense of this new phenomena and open their eyes to new learnings about addition. This will help them later, when adding different kinds of numbers (like negatives) results in smaller sums.
Remember, Zero really is a Hero!