How I Teach: Long Division

Long division is my least favorite math unit.  I am positively giddy when a student arrives already having learned it. Leap forward two spaces to word problems, kid. 

It’s just so tedious. I also can’t decide whether it is important or not. Because calculators. There is no need to pull out a pad of paper and a pencil at the dinner table to calculate your bill portion while mumbling Dancing Monkeys Slide Back when we all have a calculator on our phone. 

On the other hand, shouldn’t we know what the calculator is doing? What if our phone is dying? (My phone is always dying). Also, a lot of parents judge their children’s math learning by whether they can divide this way. It is a thing people are generally proud to have checked off a list, whether or not they ever use it in life. I’m resigned to at least show children how it works – a demystification mission, if you will. Whether they master it or not is up to the math gods. And how much they are willing to practice at home. I’d rather not be held responsible. 

Here is what I like to use to teach long division.  We start with videos because visuals and my explanations are just not as entertaining as a clam with a Swedish accent: 

This longer version from Math Antics is clear and thorough:

Math with Mr. J is also pretty good:

After watching these videos, I love using an algorithm widget that helps them navigate the steps and self check their process. 

The free math and science website CK-12 has an effective series of exercises in their Grade 6 Flexbook:

Divide Pal from Mr. Nussbaum is also simple to use and free:

The truth is there may come a day when we no longer teach this long division in school as we continue to prioritize strong number sense and reasoning over the memorization of algorithms that require rote practice. Until we come to a consensus, these tools can help learners practice at home or at school with minimal support from an adult, and I’m for anything that fosters greater student independence. 

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