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Integer Operations Work Mat with Sea of Zeros

Today I want to share an Integer Operations Work Mat with sea of zeros I created for my students to complete integer problems with both counters and a number line.

I’m so excited about my Algebra 1 class next week.  We’re starting integer operations.  And, I just can’t wait to teach my students how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide integers.

I’m going to cover integer operations in more depth and more slowly than most Algebra 1 teachers would, but it’s something I know I have to do.  My students don’t have a strong pre-algebra foundation to build on.

The ability to successfully add/subtract/multiply/divide integers is going to be crucial for their future success at solving equations and graphing.  If my students do not master these basics, they will not be able to solve equations, even if they understand the concept of solving an equation.  When they subtract three from both sides of the equation or multiply both sides by negative five, that needs to be done correctly, or their answer will be incorrect.

My Algebra 2 students never mastered integer operations.  Yesterday, I reviewed how to combine like terms, and the majority of their mistakes could be traced back to not knowing how to add, subtract, or multiply integers.  My Math Analysis students have been struggling with the concept that subtracting a negative is the same as adding a positive.

integer operations work mat activity with sea of zeros and number line

I don’t want my Algebra 1 students to struggle in the future, so I want to make sure that they fully grasp how to do integer operations.  To achieve this goal, I plan on presenting adding and subtracting integers in 3 different ways.

  1. Using colored counters
  2. Using the number line
  3. Using generalized rules

The other day, I was looking for a game to review exponent rules in my Math Analysis class.  While on Maria Andersen’s blog looking at her Exponent Block Game, I found a video of her explaining how to use colored counters.  I already knew that I was going to use colored counters to introduce the concept of adding and subtracting integers.  My pre-algebra teacher taught us that way.  I’d already even ordered bingo chips from Amazon to use as counters.  

integer operations work mat activity with sea of zeros and number line

However, I watched her video for some inspiration. She used the concept of a “Sea of Zeros.”  After I saw it explained this way, I knew I had to use it.

To keep my students organized and engaged, I made a integer operations work mat with a box to place the chips, a box to keep the Sea of Zeros, and a number line.  I want my students to see that you will get the same answer whether you use the chips or a number line.

I printed off 24 copies of the document and laminated them.  Now, they will hold up to multiple classes using them.  And, my students can write on them with their dry erase markers.  This will be especially useful for the number line. You could also slide the work mat into a dry erase pocket.


dry erase pockets

I cannot imagine teaching math without my dry erase pockets! They instantly make any activity more engaging and save me countless hours at the copy machine since I can use the same class sets of copies year after year.

Here are my current go-to recommendations:

If you don’t have a classroom set of dry erase pockets, you could also use heavy duty sheet protectors. But, I highly recommend investing in a classroom set of the pockets since they are so much more durable.

Free Download of Integer Operations Work Mat with Sea of Zeros

Integer Operations Work Mat with Sea of Zeros (PDF) (1772 downloads)


Monday 19th of September 2016

Would love a copy of this file if you don't find as I can't seem to find it! Amafied[at] Thank you!!!!

Sarah Carter (@mathequalslove)

Saturday 15th of October 2016

E-mail sent!


Thursday 15th of September 2016

Like this idea! Can you send you file? I would like to use it in my intevention class for juniors. thanks

Sarah Carter (@mathequalslove)

Saturday 15th of October 2016

E-mail sent!


Tuesday 13th of September 2016

I also cannot find the link. Would you mind emailing me this? I would love to use it in my classroom. duvallle13[at] Thanks!! :)

Sarah Carter (@mathequalslove)

Saturday 15th of October 2016

E-mail sent!


Sunday 14th of August 2016

Hi Sarah! For some reason I cannot find the link for this file. I am not sure if it is my computer or not but was wondering if you could send it to me. I am teaching a transition class like you this year for kids not quite ready for algebra 1. I think this will be a great resource for this class.


Wednesday 6th of July 2016

Thanks so much! I just used this with a student who learns visually and she mastered adding integers in 20 minutes! This will be a method I use again :)

Sarah Carter (@mathequalslove)

Sunday 31st of July 2016

You're very welcome!