2, and 5 differ from these only in that they record the areas for one pair of these rectangles at a time.

Any of the methods—and, in fact, any of the four justifications that followed— could serve as the standard algorithm for the multiplication of whole numbers because they are all general and exact. Mathematically, these methods are essentially the same, differing only in the intermediate products that are calculated and how they are recorded.

These methods, however, are quite different in transparency and efficiency. Methods 3 and 5 and the area model justification are the most transparent because the partial products are all displayed clearly and unambiguously. The three justifications using the distributive law also show these partial products unambiguously, but some of the transparency is lost in the maze of symbols. Methods 1 and 2 are the most efficient, but they lack some transparency because the 23 and the 30 actually represent 230 and 300, respectively.

Method 4 takes advantage of the fact that doubling the factor 15 gives a factor that is easy to use. It is quite different from the others. For one thing, the intermediate result is larger than the final answer. This method can also be shown to be correct using the properties of whole numbers, since multiplying one factor by 2 and then dividing the product by 2 has no net effect on the final answer. The usefulness of Method 4 depends on the numbers involved. Doubling 15 gives 30, and 23×30 is much easier to calculate mentally than 23×15. Using this method to find a product like 23×17, on the other hand, would require first calculating 23×34, which is no easier than 23×17. Clearly this method, although completely general, is not very practical. For most factors, it is neither simple nor efficient.

Building Blocks

The preceding sections have described concepts in the domain of number that serve as fundamental building blocks for the entire mathematics curriculum. Other fundamental ideas—such as those about shape, spatial relationships, and chance—are foundational as well. Students do not need to, and should not, master all the number concepts we have described before they study other topics. Rather, number concepts should serve to support mathematics learning in other domains as students are introduced to them, and, conversely, these other domains should support students’ growing understanding of number.

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