What number is this?

123? 12.3? 1.23? One has to ask oneself one question: Which one is one?

Earlier this year, I was invited into a classroom to introduce decimals. We had been representing and describing tenths concretely, pictorially, and symbolically. We finished five minutes short, so I gave the students a blank hundred-frame and asked them to show me one half and express this in as many ways as they could.

As expected, some expressed this as 5/10 and 0.5. They used five of the ten full ten-frames it takes to cover an entire hundred-frame. Others expressed this as 50/100 and 0.50. They covered the blank hundred-frame with fifty dots. I was listening *for* these answers.

One student expressed this as 2/4. I assumed he just multiplied both the numerator and denominator of 1/2 by 2. And then he showed me this:

One student expressed this as 500/1000 and 0.500. I assumed he was just extending the pattern(s). “Yeahbut where do you *see* the 500 and 1000?” I ~~asked~~ challenged. “I imagine that inside every one of these *points to a dot* there is one of these *holds up a full ten-frame*,” he explained. As his teacher and I listened *to* his ideas, our jaws hit the floor.

In my previous post, I discussed fractions, decimals, place value, and language. To come full circle, what if we took a closer look at 0.5, 0.50, and 0.500? These are *equivalent* decimals. That is, they represent equivalent fractions: “five tenths,” “fifty hundreds,” “five hundred thousandths,” respectively. From a place-value-on-the-left-of-the-decimal-point point of view, 0.5 is five tenths; 0.50 is five tenths and zero hundredths; 0.500 is five tenths, zero hundredths, zero thousandths. *Equal*, right?