Teacher Resources for Negative and Positive Numbers (Introduction)

Grade level designed for: 6

Common Core Standards covered in Module:
CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.6.NS.C.5 / C.6 — including 6.A, 6.B 6.C / C.7 – including 7.A, 7.B, 7.C, 7.D / C.8

STEM Professional Featured:

Physical Oceanographer Emmanuel Boss enjoys spending time at sea level (elevation 0) and his work takes him into the ocean.

Additional STEMps Included:

Civil Engineer
Tysheina Robertson




Earth Systems Scientist
Charles Zender




Software Engineer
Malik Coates

Guiding Questions

  • What are negative numbers?
  • What are positive numbers?
  • How can we use negative and positive numbers to describe money, locations on Earth’s surface, elevation, and temperature?
  • How do we find negative and positive numbers on number lines and Cartesian coordinate systems (in the xy-plane)?

Opening Project: Thinking Outside of the Classroom

To start the Unit (Designed to help kids explore the math creatively, before they learn the subject.)

Materials: butcher-block or other paper, markers, meter sticks/yard sticks/measuring tape

Teacher Instructions:
Students construct a number line, from 0 to 10, on the classroom floor, using what they know, i.e. the positive integers. Have the number line measure the distance they have walked into the classroom, with 0 at the door itself.  Measure in feet or in decimeters or meters (for meters, go from 0-5 or whatever works in your classroom).  Tape the number line to the floor (important!).

Then stand in the hall, a meter or foot or decimeter outside the classroom, along where the number line would be, and ask students: “How can we use the number line to describe where I am now?”

Listen to students’ ideas about how to determine your location, using the number line. Then add paper that extends the number line into the hall, past zero, and ask students how they would fill in the new numbers. Discuss.  Eventually, include -1 through -5 (or whatever negative numbers get you across the hall, using the unit of measurement you used in the classroom).

Student instructions:
Working with your group, plan a number line that measures the distance from the door to 5 meters or 10 feet into your classroom. Draw the number line, indicating where the door is and where you expect the end of the number line to land. Estimate the full distance from the door to the opposite wall. When your teacher tells you it’s time, join the rest of your class at the door, ready to build the number line.

Instructions for early finishers:
Measure the distance from the door of your classroom to the opposite wall.  How accurate was your estimate? If you measured in feet, how would you convert that to yards? If you measured in meters, how would you convert that to centimeters or decimeters? Analyze the width of your classroom, using different units of measure.  Write up your estimates and your measured results.

In-Class Question:

(Start each Math4Science lesson with a discussion that includes every student in your math class.)

Have you been to the beach? What’s your favorite thing to do in the ocean (or another body of water that you’ve visited)? 

Meet the Scientist:

Physical Oceanographer Emmanuel Boss wasn’t too excited about science class but has always loved diving, windsurfing, and sailing, so he decided to make the ocean and the stuff in it, from light and sound to fish, to tiny plants you can’t see without a microscope, the focus of his work.


(Click on the link or photo above to learn more about Physical Oceanographer Emmanuel Boss.)


(Move students from the introduction to the Scientist to the math lesson by connecting the math they will learn in this unit to work the scientist does.)

Physical Oceanographer Emmanuel Boss studies stuff in the ocean, including tiny plants called phytoplankton. These plants require light to survive. Plenty of sunlight reaches the top 100 meters of the ocean, from 0 to -100m elevations, in the euphotic zone. Further down, at elevations from -100m to -1000m, is the disphotic zone, where animals can survive but there’s not enough sunlight for plants to live. Below that, in the aphotic zone, there’s no light at all. 

Explore Math

Use Math4Science’s Lesson and Practice pages to help your students master Negative and Positive Numbers (Introduction).


Closing Project: Life Below Sea Level

After the Unit (Designed to give kids a chance to use the tools they have learned by studying the math and mastering it via the problem set.

Materials: Paper, paint/markers/other art supplies, meter sticks or centimeter rulers, opportunities for research (books and/or computers re: ocean life)

Teacher instructions:
Review the different zones of the ocean and their elevations, being sure to use negative numbers to describe them and to indicate their distance from sea level (zero elevation). Then provide students with paper, pencils, and art supplies as well as books/magazines/websites that will help them research life in different ocean zones.

Student instructions:
Working with your partners, design an ocean. Add an elevation scale to the side of it, running from + 10 meters (10 m above sea level) to — 1000 m. Find out the names of at least three forms of life and/or other physical features found in each of the ocean’s zones (listed above in Meet the Scientist). Mark each zone on your elevation scale and place the life forms and other physical features in your ocean. Hints: When researching the aphotic zone, check out the Mariana Trench.

Instructions for early finishers:
Do additional research, listing five more forms of life for each ocean zone. If possible, draw (or cut out photos of) each life form and add it to your ocean.



integer, zero, negative number, number line, Cartesian coordinates, coordinate system, positive number, elevation, temperature, money, debt, prime meridian, equator, longitude, latitude, line of longitude, line of latitude